Whether you need to meet with hundreds of employees or a few collaborators on a project, a teleconference may be your best option. On busy days, participants will appreciate not having to leave the building, or even their desks, to discuss a project.
How you conduct the teleconference and the technology you use depends on the purpose. For instance, perhaps one or two people will be giving a presentation followed by a Q&A session. Or maybe the teleconference will be more collaborative, with all participants expected to give their input. You may also need to work on documents or view a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel document.
At the most basic, participants can call from their own phones into a central number and enter a pass code, requiring the least amount of equipment. This is appropriate for small groups of people where everyone will participate throughout the call and no visuals are needed. However, if one person will be giving a presentation, opt for a teleconference service that gives nonpresenters a pass code that will keep them on mute. If you want to hold a Q&A session after the speaker is done, you can allow the other callers to unmute their phones. Make sure the service you use can accommodate the appropriate number of participants for the amount of time that you need.
For calls with larger numbers of people, consider using an operator to introduce participants and control the conference. Some companies also offer transcription services and will record the call and make it available for later download. You also can conduct polls in which callers can vote on an issue by pressing a specific number.
If employees in one building are calling from a shared conference room rather than their own offices, you’ll need a speakerphone. Make sure that the quality is good enough for the number of people on the call and that it’s positioned in the center of the table. Never drag it from person to person.
When voice isn’t enough, you also can add video, Web, document collaboration, and more to your teleconference. For example, after joining the call, participants can watch a PowerPoint or other presentation on their computers or on a screen or laptop in a shared conference room. Online services also allow employees to view documents, such as an Excel spreadsheet, on their computers while a speaker explains how to manipulate them. All employees can make changes to the documents with a program like Google Docs. And with interactive whiteboards, a presenter can draw on images or a blank page while participants view the changes.
Some companies offer packages with combined voice, video, and Web conferencing, including Cisco, Nortel, and Alcatel-Lucent. For instance, the Cisco Unified MeetingPlace sends invitations through Outlook, calls participants, asks them to record their names for introduction, and lets the host mute individual callers, in addition to the video and Web features.
Regardless of the type of teleconference you’re hosting, be sure to send an invitation well in advance with the details of the meeting, including the dial-in number and any additional information callers will need. Before the meeting begins, lay out any ground rules. For example, remind participants not to put their phones on hold and subject others to their hold music.
When selecting a service provider and teleconferencing equipment, consider how often you’ll be conducting calls and what features are most important to you. Teleconferencing does require an initial investment, but remember that you can save your company money by reducing travel and improving productivity.