Monthly Archives: January 2019

Telephone Conference: Clarity or Chaos

Telephone or video conferences give us the opportunity to communicate efficiently in a global network—virtually every day and without travel costs. Nevertheless, they can simply be counterproductive, even harmful. A few examples—and how to do better.

By Jens Kügler

Kat G. came from Scotland. You knew it when she only opened her mouth and spoke a syllable. However, WHAT she said in her English remained hidden from me because of her rough Scottish accent. Every time Kat called me, I asked her: Kat, speak slowly please, I’m not a native English speaker (I should have said: I’m not Scottish …). Well, she couldn’t speak slowly. So I interrupted every conversation after three minutes at the latest and told her to write me an e-mail.

Ask your American colleagues if they really understood everything that “se Dschörmäns” (the Germans in German English) said. Or the people from Dubai, whether they could really follow the comments of the sales manager from Shanghai or Mumbai. In short, when we conduct an international telephone or video conference, we all somehow break through something that none of us speaks like his mother tongue: Inglish. It is therefore advisable for someone to take the lead in the conversation and repeat what has been said and have it confirmed. And asks everyone whether they have understood.

Are we actually globalized? No—not mentally. You probably know that: “We” Europeans and Americans like to be a little cheeky, know-it-all … we have our say on each other. But on a telephone conference, nobody sees the facial expressions of the others and recognizes the role of a spokesman. And the Japanese colleagues? Out of sheer Far Eastern label courtesy they wait well-behaved until they get their say. And of course they never get it. So they have nothing to say! In short: Someone has to lead the conversation and ask all participants one after the other, otherwise many go under.

To ask everyone—there are several good reasons for this. If participants do not feel addressed directly, they often deal with other things and mentally switch off. Some write mails, others watch funny videos. And what about humor? With funny, supposedly loosening remarks? This can be a disaster, not just because of cultural differences. But also because nobody recognizes the facial expressions and gestures that are indispensable for humor.

How can all this be avoided? Some things were already touched on in the last blog post: “Tuesday, 10 AM: Video Conference!”. Just a few points as a supplement. There should be a discussion leader, who sends the agenda to all participants first, so that a manual exists and all are well prepared. Then the tip: At the beginning everyone introduces himself and his activities, one after the other. And in the same order as with the introduction round the discussion leader asks the participants, if all are to contribute to the last thing mentioned. Otherwise, a telephone conference can become a waste of time.

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Tuesday, 10 AM: Video Conference!

When is the best time for a telephone or video conference? Tuesday morning. Why is that? Read more … even if you have always intuitively inclined to this scheduling.

By Jens Kügler

Digitalisation gives us wonderful times: technology via wire, radio, computers and the Internet enables us to more and more flexible teleworking. Never before has it been so easy and cost-effective to meet with colleagues and business partners from all over the world. And that almost independently of countries, continents and time zones.

Let us slip into the role of the organizer, say, the company headquarters. In other words, the person from whom the telcon originates and who represents the most important part. And let’s assume that this central office is located in Germany. Why should the conference call take place at “our” morning time?

First of all, people anywhere are most productive in the morning. Many studies have shown that we achieve our highest productivity between 9 and 11 am.

But why should it be Tuesday?
On Tuesday we have already overcome the “Monday morning blues” and the consequences of the Saturday night party or holiday weekend. We feel to be back again and have emotionally arrived in the middle of the working week. And after Tuesday morning there is still enough time in the rest of the week to implement what we have discussed.

But above all, one thing counts that I would like to illustrate with the example of the Tuesday as the week’s day number two: A Tuesday morning here in central Europe means for participants on the American east coast that they can still be reached on “their” Monday evening, while the Chinese or Japanese colleagues can still be involved on “their” Tuesday evening. Of course, this would also work on a Wednesday or Thursday. But not on a Monday—as the US colleagues are still in their weekend. And not on a Friday, too, if decision-makers from Dubai or Abu Dhabi shall be present, for whom Friday is a public holiday, while the East Asians are already in their weekend. The remaining days are out of the question if you don’t want to steal your employees’ free time, no matter where they are in the world.

A few more points about the “how” of a conference call:
It should be short and not last longer than 45 minutes. It has been proven that people can only concentrate completely on one topic for about 45 minutes. For exactly this reason, school lessons or driving lessons have been finished after 45 instead of 60 minutes for ages. Therefore, it is recommended that someone leads the conference and has prepared an agenda. It’ most appropriate that he sends the agenda to all participants via email or intranet long enough before the call so that they all can prepare themselves.

In addition, the number of participants should be limited. Invite only those circles of persons that are directly involved—and among them only the one who decides or mediates. Don’t include ten or more participants! In a large group, a telcon will hardly be manageable anymore. And if everyone wants to have a say, it will be longer and longer and much of what has been discussed will be lost.

One more tip: Video or webcam meetings are better than just telephone conferences. Looking into each others eyes and faces increases familiarity. You can see from the gestures or facial expressions whether someone wants to get in touch or how he or she perceives or has meant what has been said.

Last but not least, webcam meetings with telephone dial-up are recommended instead of purely web-based communication. Because the good old telephone line is usually most reliable for “holding” the connection. If—as it is so often the case—the webcam image suddenly fails due to overload of the Wifi or slowness of the network, it is at least still possible to speak.

In one of the next blog posts, I would like to go into more detail on the “how” to conduct a telephone or video conference. Because the “how” influences productivity immensely. Suddenly there is a cliffhanger—a reason to read on the week after next!

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