Conference Call Best Practices

At ZipDX, we know conferencing. We live, breathe and dream it. Based on our experiences and hearing tales of woe from conferencers, we’ve put together this list of best practices that will contribute to a high-quality conferencing experience.

When Joining A Conference
    • Be on time. Dial in at least a minute or two ahead of the scheduled time. Don’t keep others waiting. ZipDX members can enable the ZipDX call-me feature, which guarantees you’ll never be late again.
    • Choose a quiet spot and a good phone. Background noise and poor phone quality is disturbing to everyone on the call and makes the call less productive. If you’re in the office, dial in from a private room; in public places, choose a quiet spot. If a landline is available, use it, rather than a lower-quality mobile connection. Avoid Skype and similar free services unless you’ve confirmed that you get consistently good quality.
    • Avoid cheap speakerphones. You can listen on a low-quality set, but when you speak, pick up the handset unless you have a high-fidelity speakerphone. Or, find out more about connecting with wideband audio.
    • Use muting. If you are primarily listening, mute yourself except when talking. ZipDX provides muting for individual lines (dial *6 when in the call) that’s better than the mute button on your handset, because it blocks ALL noise, including over-the-air interference and echoes. Plus, ZipDX members have access to our innovative online dashboard that lets you mute call participants. Log in to ZipDX.com, find your in-progress conference, and click on “dashboard” to view it.
    • No music-on-hold! Many PBXs play music on hold or with call-waiting. If you must invoke these features on your business phone, use conference mute (*6 with ZipDX) BEFORE activating.
    • Turn off Blackberries and other GSM phones. Even when set to “silent” or “vibrate,” many mobile phones can inject noise into the conference if they are near the landline phone or speakerphone connected to the conference call. If you must keep these devices on, place them far away from the conference phone. ZipDX members can mute themselves with *6. Plus, ZipDX has a special buzz-off feature that helps to block the transmission of unwanted noise and static during calls.
    • Disable other noisemakers. Turn off PC speakers, radios, mobile phones – anything that might produce noise that will distract from the conference. ZipDX’s buzz-off feature will help, too.
    • Identify yourself, and speak up. If you haven’t talked for a while, listeners will probably have a hard time recognizing you. State your name as you start, and speak clearly, distinctly and directly into the handset or microphone.
    • Position microphones. If you are in a conference room, insure your equipment is suitable for the number of participants. With more than just a few people, extra microphones will be required. Position them near the primary talkers; move them away from PC and projector fans. Don’t let them get blocked by laptop covers or potato chip bags.
    • No side conversations. In the conference room, only one person should talk at a time. If others are having their own conversations, it will be very difficult for those on the bridge to understand the primary speaker.
    • Handouts. If you’ve got materials to present, distribute them in advance to the other participants. Be sure to include page numbers, and refer to them regularly to keep everybody in sync.

HOST Responsibilities
Many professional meeting planners suggest that at least a day prior to the conference, you communicate to your colleagues:

      • Invitation. Inform all participants of the date, time, duration and access information for the meeting. With ZipDX’s calendar integration, you can copy ZipDX on the invitation, and the system will add the call to your schedule.
      • Participation. Clearly state which of the invited participants are required to attend and which are optional.
      • Expectations. State the objective of the meeting.
      • Agenda. Provide an agenda, ideally with responsibility assignments and time allocations for each section.
      • Preparation. Be especially clear about any pre-work items required of the participants.
      • Materials. Supply any necessary materials (handouts, advance reading); be sure to include page numbers for easy reference during the conference.
ZipDX HOST Responsibilities
ZipDX members can optimize conference settings for a more productive call:

      • Conference Code: Assigning a Conference Code allows anybody who knows (or guesses) the code to join the conference. Since this is less secure, we recommend you omit the code and invite participants individually – they will then join the conference using their unique PINs. If you are happy to have anybody join, or you want the people that you explicitly invite to also encourage their colleagues to join, assign a code that can then be passed around. ZipDX members can read all about the different ways to use (or not use) codes. Remember NOT to share your PIN; that’s for your use only (and you should always use it when hosting a conference, even if others are accessing with a Conference Code).
      • Lecture Mode: If you are hosting a large group and expect most people to be in listen-only mode, enable this option when setting up the conference, and then use the online dashboard to call on people individually and enable them to be heard. Lecture mode invokes “hard mute” for each participant, meaning that the host controls the muting. Individual participants cannot disable hard muting.
      • Alternate Host: You can designate another call participant as a HOST; this will allow them to speak when the rest of the call is in lecture mode, and will allow them to manipulate the call via the online dashboard and the keypad host controls. This can also be useful if you have an assistant helping you to manage the call. The alternate host designation can be made when the conference is set up, or via the ZipDX dashboard.
      • Start Without Host: If participants arrive before you do, set this to allow them to talk to each other before you arrive, unless you have reason for them to wait until you join. However, the host should arrive well before the scheduled start time when hosting a lecture-only conference.
      • Chimes: Normally you would enable chimes to alert everyone that a participant has just joined or left the conference. However, with larger groups, this can be distracting. Instead, use the online dashboard to monitor who is coming and going. The host could periodically announce participant status if the roster is changing frequently.
      • Name Announcements: These can be even more disruptive than chimes. Use only with smaller groups when people are not frequently coming and going (or switching phones).
      • Continue Without Host: Unless you are conducting a lecture conference, set the call to continue at least 5 minutes without you, the host, so if you are unintentionally disconnected, you have time to dial back into the conference without losing all the other participants. Set it to more than 5 minutes only if you expect some participants to need to talk among themselves after you have left.
HOST Responsibilities – At Meeting Time
      • Arrive early. Dial into the conference service at least 2 minutes before the scheduled start time. If you’re a ZipDX member, enable the call-me feature, and the system will automatically call you two minutes ahead.
      • Announce yourself. As soon as you’ve heard (or seen in the online dashboard) that others have joined the call, greet them. “This is David Smith in the Chicago conference room. We’ll be starting in a few minutes.”
      • Greet others. As you get an indication that someone has joined, be proactive in acknowledging them. If you know who they are (from the ZipDX dashboard or a name announcement), say “Hello Bill, this is David. We haven’t started yet. I’ll do a roll call in about two minutes.” If you don’t know who just joined, say “This is David in Chicago. Who just joined?” and then let them know your status and plan. Make a list of who is on the phone, or use the ZipDX online dashboard to keep track.
      • Start on time. Watch the clock. If you are running late, let others know. “I see it’s now 10:02. I’m still waiting for Fred and Sandy. We’ll start the meeting in three minutes.” ZipDX hosts can use the dial-out feature to call missing participants. (Dial *98, followed by their number and #; the call will become part of the conference. Dial *99 to disconnect – for example, if you get voicemail. Or click the DIALOUT button on the dashboard.)
      • Call the meeting to order. “We’re ready to start. This is David Smith; here in the Chicago conference room we have Bill Jones, Beth Cobb, Todd Murphy, and Susan Foster. On the phone are Fred Lewis, Sandy Moen and John Simmons. Elton Webster left me a note saying he’d be joining around 10:30. Did I miss anybody?”
      • Announce breaks. These should be planned into the agenda of lengthy meetings. Let people on the phone know what’s happening. Some examples: “We’re going to break for 10 minutes to grab a sandwich. The meeting will start again at 12:20.” Then: “Almost everybody is back. We’ll start in three minutes.” “Susan got called out of the room and she needs to be present for this part of the meeting. Stand by while I find out how long she’ll be away.”
      • Keep track of time. Watch the clock and watch your agenda. Announce your intentions. For example: “We’re running about 20 minutes behind. Does anybody have a problem extending the meeting until 1:30?” Or, “We’re out of time for this agenda item. I’d like to propose a separate session on this topic. I’ll get a note out to Sandy and Elton this afternoon to set that up.”
      • Mute noisy participants. ZipDX members have a few ways to do this. When you hear noise on the conference, check the online dashboard; it highlights the active “talkers.” You’ll be able to spot the noise-maker. Ask them to mute themselves or (to avoid disrupting the conference discussion), just click the “M” symbol next to their name, and choose Mute On. They’ll get an announcement saying “Now muted; press *6 to unmute.” Or, you can mute all the participants, either from the online dashboard, or by dialing *961. They can then unmute themselves individually when they wish to be heard.

Do you have further suggestions for conferencing best practices or questions about ZipDX features? Email ideas@ZipDX.com.