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Chapter 20: How to be an Outstanding Audio- or Videoconference Leader


Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.

- Charles Dickens

Samuel Morse transmitted the first electrical telegraph message in 1844; however, he wasn't the first to try innovative ways to communicate over long distances. Records show that in the fourth century B.C., for example, messages were "transported" by a line of men shouting to each other and passing the message down the line. Smoke signals and mirrors reflecting the sunlight could also be considered early forms of sending messages over long distances to more than one person at a time.

Although the technology has advanced tremendously, the problem remains the same - finding ways to communicate with others who are located in different parts of the building, the town, or the world. Today, the solution often comes in the form of teleconferencing: the holding of a conference among people remote from one another by means of telecommunication devices (such as telephones, video cameras, and computer terminals).

Today, the need for long-distance communication is greater than ever. Because of the Internet and other advances, more and more companies do business across the country and around the world, and the need to stay in touch with their own employees at distant locations, or with faraway customers and vendors is greater than ever. The threats of war around the world as well as economic hardships have forced many businesspeople to cut way back on their travel time and expenses. Fortunately, however, the tools used to make long-distance communication possible are improving constantly.

Teleconferencing has been growing at double digit annual rates throughout the 21st century. It has become very mainstream, providing basic essential features such as text chat, video chat, and the ability to share documents & software applications.


Sometimes terms can be confusing. The term teleconferencing used to refer only to what is also called conference calling - when several people are able to speak to each other at the same time via telephone. Today, teleconferencing includes any medium that allows several people to communicate at once. In order to distinguish the media, this section is now being called audioconferencing, which means that there is no visual communication included.

The Important Differences Between Face-to-Face and Teleconferencing

In a perfect world, all meetings would be face-to-face. The whole point of communication is to make connections; it's much easier to connect with a live person than with a disembodied voice. There can be no eye contact over the telephone, and the eyes, as you know, are the windows to the soul. There's no better way to tell what a person is feeling than by looking into his or her eyes. When this is not possible, you have to rely on your listening skills to get as much information as you can from the other person's words, tone, and vocal inflections.

The Added Importance of Your Voice

We get visual clues from people all the time, and we give them as well, whether we know it or not. If those visual clues are not available (which is the case in audioconferencing), we have to rely solely on our voice to convey our meaning and messages to the other parties. In Chapter 8, we learned that how we look forms 55 percent of people's initial perceptions of each other. When that is taken away, we have to fill in that huge space using only how we sound and what we say.

Therefore, practicing the voice techniques in Chapter 8 is more important than ever. Practice your vocal variety and your diction. Record yourself, play it back, and make sure that you can understand every word clearly and distinctly. Leave voice messages for friends and family and ask them to evaluate your clarity and articulation.

Look for ways to be sure your voice is commanding. If you have a breathy voice, breathe more carefully (and from the diaphragm) so that your voice sounds firm and you're not breathing directly into the telephone or microphone. Watch the sounds that are easily distorted over the telephone, especially at the ends of words.

If you're leading a conference, you want to be sure that your voice is welcoming and warm. At the same time, it has to have authority. You want to use good articulation, and you want to sound sharp. You don't want to drop sounds - it's much more powerful to say "going to" than "gonna."

Practice building a stronger, more resonant, more authoritative voice because when you're on the phone, your voice is your entire image; it's the only perception people will have of you.

Distractions and How to Deal With Them

When you're doing a telephone conference call, there will always be distractions. People may be sitting at their desks sending and receiving e-mail while they're talking, they may be sending hand signals to officemates, they may even be wolfing down a Tai chicken wrap and a latté while they're participating in a teleconference. You have no control over those things.

There are also many different kinds of audioconferences. There are audioconferences between two or three people that are very much involved in an issue. Distractions are usually not a problem in this setting. There are audioconferences that are held weekly with staff members all over the world who have to keep in touch and give reports on what they're doing. Some people, who are not as interested in reports about A or B, may lose interest until it's their turn to make a report. Then there is the large audioconference (50 people or more), where people come and go as needed.

There are some things you can do to keep distractions to a minimum. Have an important person as one of your participants. That way people are anxious to be heard - to make an impression on the "boss." Let people know that their contributions are valuable. Call on individuals by name. Ask people to summarize from time to time so everyone can stay on track. One of the best ways is to make sure that only people who really need to be involved are taking part, and schedule people for when their areas of interest are going to be discussed. If people sense that you're making an effort to appreciate their time, they will be less distracted.

Techniques for Keeping People Involved

The best way to keep people involved is to ask interesting, engaging questions. Instead of asking, "What did you think about such and such?" ask, "Mary, what did you think about the relationship between A and B?" Ask specific questions of specific people. Then people will know that you're going to do that. Ask thought-provoking questions. For example, in a trip to Cuba instead of simply asking people there, "What do you think about Cuba," we asked, "As Fidel Castro goes around this country, what do you think he feels are his biggest disappointments?" That's a question that got people to think. Try not to ask closed-ended questions that begin with who, what, when, and where.

How to Use the Equipment

If you are using the phone to communicate to a large number of people (or more than two, at least), then sound quality is the key. Conference calls on low-quality speakerphones can ruin an otherwise well-planned meeting. Communication will suffer because whole words and phrases will be "swallowed up" by the equipment, leaving listeners wondering what they've missed. And you must be sure that if you're calling among numerous locations, that all callers can hear each other clearly.

Whatever equipment you're using, contact the manufacturer or distributor. They have booklets or brochures on how to make the best use of the equipment. Many of them also have helpful materials on how to run a successful teleconference.

Tips for Leading an Audioconferencing Meeting

If you are asked to lead an audioconference meeting, you are responsible for making it both effective and efficient. Here are some tips to help you make that happen:

Questioning Techniques to Gain Involvement and Control Results (Audio- and Videoconferencing)

Questioning Techniques for Teleconference Success

There are many ways to use questions to keep your audioconference interesting, flowing, effective, and informative. Here are some of them:

To open a discussion

To keep discussion to the point

To bring out reactions to films and other media

To direct attention to another phase of the subject

To bring out opinions and attitudes

To uncover causes or relationships

To suggest an action, idea, or decision

To achieve a conclusion or agreement

To get information

To test ideas

To call attention to a point, an idea, a fact, a problem, or a situation

To bring out reactions to a point made by a conferee

To develop new ideas

To summarize or end a discussion

Keep Your Conference in Control

Here are some techniques for keeping the distractions to a minimum, and helping participants stay focused and on track:

Conferee talks too much

Interrupt tactfully with a question or summarizing statement.

When the talker pauses, rephrase one of his or her statements and pass on to another question.

Seat this participant in your "blind spot" right next to you and ignore some of his or her comments.

Allow the group to cut this participant off, which they probably will if the talking persists.

Conferee doesn't participate

When asking a question, make eye contact with this participant.

Phrase questions in a way to stimulate this particular conferee's participation.

Ask a direct question of this conferee.

Conferees engage in side conversations

Stop talking and wait for side conversation to end.

Stand behind the conferees who are talking.

Change the seating arrangement.

Ask a direct question of one of the talkers.

One conferee adamantly disagrees with the group on a particular point.

Let the group handle this participant.

Change the subject.

Have the participant summarize the position he or she disagrees with.

If all else fails, talk with this participant after the conference.


At the 1969 World's Fair, one of the most popular exhibits was the AT&T Pavilion. That's because visitors could use what was then called the "Picturephone," an astounding invention that allowed you to simultaneously speak with and see someone who was using a Picturephone at the other side of the Fair. It was a glimpse into a future only the people at Bell Labs had imagined.

Today, of course, the ability to videoconference is being used by businesses every day around the world. Because the camera is tougher than an audience of thousands, it is essential for anyone utilizing videoconferencing to develop the skills necessary to seem natural, confident, and authoritative - yet accessible. As you can see from watching politicians, this is not an easy task. However, there are ways to minimize the glitches and maximize the effectiveness of this growing meeting medium.

There are a variety of reasons for choosing videoconferencing:

Videoconferencing versus Face-to-Face

Videoconference is more like an in-person meeting than audio-conferencing because you can see people's faces, expressions, gestures, and movements. But there are still a number of differences, as you can see in the chart below.

Seeing Is Believing: Visual Aids for Videoconferencing

Visual aids are ideal for television or video, to emphasize your message or to clarify important information. Some examples include:

Videoconferencing versus Face-to-Face


Face-to-Face Meetings

You can easily hold meetings with people who are far away from the meeting site.

People who are far away will miss the meeting, or it will be costly to bring them to the site.

You can often accommodate more people by using a number of sites.

Meeting space may be limited.

There is much more set-up and preparation time needed.

Set-up is usually minimal.

Videoconferencing is never spontaneous.

A face-to-face meeting can be spur of the moment.

Distractions are more noticeable; people coming and going are more disruptive.

It's easier to "slip in" or out without causing distraction.

More technical glitches are likely to occur.

Unless special equipment is being used, no technology is involved.

In most cases, once the camera(s) is in place, it isn't moved, which means you are always in view.

You face less personal scrutiny.

People tend to behave differently on-camera.

People are more at ease in a familiar meeting situation.

You can only see what the camera is focused on.

You can see everything that's in the room.

Pointers for Preparing Presentation Materials:

How to Hold Visual Aids for the Camera

Videoconferencing is an effective tool when you want to disseminate information to people who are at different locations, and you want them to see each other's faces and expressions. If you have to work as a long-distance team, it's easier to work together when you can attach names to faces. This is especially important during the early phases of a project, when it's important to build relationships. It's also effective when all team members need to see and discuss the same data, presentations, or visual images.

Professional Projects: Expand Your Meeting Possibilities
  1. At the next audio- and videoconference you attend, make a list of the things that worked and the things that didn't.

  2. Contact professional companies who run teleconferencing and try to get as many how-to's as you can from them on how to run an audioconference and/or a videoconference.

  3. Check with people within your company who do these on a regular basis. Find out the best things you can do to run a better meeting and to be a better participant.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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