More and more meetings are held by telephone and video conference these days: less time away from work, less time and expense in travelling and more opportunities to work from home where appropriate.
However, even teleconferencing and videoconferencing have their problems. Here are a few.
- ‘I can hear you but you can’t hear me’, or vice-versa. This may be because systems are down or because of system incompatibility. Worth checking everyone is on the same wavelength.
- ‘You didn’t say it was CET (Central European time)!’ Missing the call because no-one specified the time zone is regrettably common.
- ‘Did I just hear a cow mooing?’ You didn’t say you were working from home on a hot day in the countryside with the windows open. Close the window.
- ‘Is anybody there?’ Yes, but out of respect they are listening quietly and not responding until specifically requested to.
- ‘Is that Darth Vader on the line? Kindly mute yourself.’ Heavy breathing doesn’t help reception.
- ‘Sorry, who’s talking?’ Lack of clarity in saying your name and identifying yourself when speaking is often a problem.
- ‘I can’t see you.’ You’re sitting behind another participant on the call or you’re on the edge of the screen and leaning back.
- ‘Sorry, who’s talking?’ I’m looking at a group of five people and have no idea which one has opened his or her mouth to speak.
- ‘Did you have a good lunch?’ Why is the tabled littered with empty sandwich wrappers, half eaten sandwiches and half full coffee cups?
- ’What ‘s that growing out of your head?’ Are you sitting directly in front of a tall potted plant?
- ’Are those the latest sales figures on the wall behind you?’ Your negative sales growth chart or that humorous but tasteless cartoon or calendar on the wall distracts attention.
- ‘Sorry, I’ve got to leave now.’ We’ve been here two hours and nothing’s agreed.
1. PREPARE both teleconferences and videoconferences. Use this checklist: –
- Check equipment compatibility. Has everybody got the right connections? Has everybody got mute buttons? Does the camera zoom in on the speaker or is it fixed focus?
- Check time. Are we clear when we are meeting and which time zone it is?
- Check length. Agree timing but remember that some business take longer to complete tele-meetings than others.
- Check facilities. If you don’t have a specialised video conference suite make sure rooms are tidy with no compromising images or charts in vision.
- Check clothes – on videoconferences is your dress or tie going to strobe on camera? Be careful of bright stripes.
- Check possible distractions. Keep the windows and door closed. Advise colleagues (and family) you are on a conference call and mustn’t be disturbed.
2. SAY WHO YOU ARE. Make sure you are clear and that you identify yourself when you speak.
- Say your name clearly. If you don’t I’ll be too embarrassed to talk to you.
- Identify yourself every time you speak. ‘Barry speaking’ really helps.
- Make a gesture when speaking on camera so I can identify you in a group.
- Watch your breathing and coughing when on microphone. Mute if necessary.
3. KEEP TABS ON PROGRESS.
- HAVE AN AGENDA – Really important organizing tool to help everyone know where they are in the meeting.
- RE-INFORCE CONCLUSIONS – at end of each agenda item
- CLARIFY ACTION POINTS and who is responsible for delivery
- MINUTE and circulate conclusions and action points. In some markets this may be specially important for organizational and legal reasons.
4. USE ‘WARM’ Conference calls for group bonding.
- ANYTHING BUT WORK Think about spending the first or last ten minutes of a conference call on general life and interests- the weather, football etc.
- VIDEOCONFERENCE first meeting for remote project groups, especially including participants from more relationship- oriented markets like Brazil can help group members get to know each other better.
- CAFÉ-CONFERENCE – devote a call to general discussion of a topic of interest to collect views and opinions on company progress and company issues. Should always be led by a senior staff member.
Barry Tomalin, Cross Culture Lead at Fortis CL
Author: ‘World Business Cultures – a Handbook’
Fortis Consulting London provides a range of services to assist with international trade: