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8 Top Tips for Managing a Large Reservationless Conference Call

One of the most stressful things in business is managing a large scale conference call.  All the problems of a regular conference call are exponentially magnified as the number of participants increases.  All that ‘booping’ as people join and drop from the call, all that background noise coming from who knows where, not having a clue who’s actually on the call, who asked that question or what is going on.  We’ve all been there both trying to manage such a call and even as a participant trying to concentrate on the content of the call.  Here at LoopUp, we think a lot about these kinds of situations so this blog post contains a few tricks and tips to help you through while minimizing face, egg integration.  Some of these tips leverage the cool process of LoopUp but most have general applicability no matter which conferencing platform you use.

Reservationless vs. ‘Operator Assisted’ Conference Calls

Reservationless conference calls are really designed for smaller, everyday conference calls of 2-10 people.  ‘Operator Assisted’ conferences with each participant being welcomed by an attendant and the call being proactively managed (like the ones you may have heard on an earnings call, for example) are intended for large scale conferences.  However, Operator Assisted calls are expensive and a pain to organize, so the temptation is great just to send out your regular everyday dial-in details when dealing with a ‘medium sized’ call.  However, while this might be more convenient up front and certainly cheaper, these calls frequently yield embarrassment and end in disarray.

I was doing a LoopUp demo with a large company the other day (name omitted to protect the innocent), when the quite senior execs I was with started to giggle.  Fearing my fly was undone, I asked what had provoked the chortles.  They told me of a recent quarterly sales meeting with about 50 participants where the CEO was really trying to rally the team and pump up the sales team about the coming quarter.  As his impassioned speech reached a crescendo of evocation to the team – ‘We can do it! We can hit the goal!’ – loudly and clearly across the entire call the unmistakable sound of a flushing toilet was heard as the final punctuation of the meeting.

So, here are a few tips that I hope will help alleviate the pain.

8 Tips for managing a large reservationless conference call

1. Don’t Go Too Big!

Most reservationless conference call systems will be fine for up to around 50 participants on a single call.  However, some enforce hard limits on the number of participants for a given call and will frustratingly deny access to any participants over that limit.  The best idea is to get an estimate of how many people will be on the call and if it will be over 50, speak to your conferencing provider’s account manager to let them know that the call is happening and check to make sure that no hard limits on participants are in place.  At LoopUp, we typically ask users to let us know when they are going to have calls of more than 100 participants, but do not apply a hard limit to the number of participants.  If you are going to go much above 100 or 150 participants, I would consider investing in an operator assisted call.

2. Make Sure the Invite Has All the Dial-in and Call Access Information That the Participants Will Need

As business continues to internationalize, it is more and more likely that you will have participants on your large call from other countries.  Try to figure out the main destinations that people will need access from and make sure you add the dial-in numbers for those countries to the invite.  At LoopUp, we just integrate that into the standard appointment set up flow through Outlook (or other calendar app) so you can tick the countries that you need to include in the invite.  We also provide a handy link that lets you enter your phone number (wherever you are) and the system will call you.  While other services don’t necessarily make it easy to track down the international dial-in numbers, you can usually eventually track them down buried in the corner of their site somewhere.

3. Set Up Your Call So That You Don’t Get Interrupted by Joining and Leaving Boops

Regular conference calls can degrade into a messy cacophony of ‘boops’ and calls of ‘who just joined’.  This is painful enough with 4 or 5 participants, but can reach truly comic proportions on large scale conferences.  Most conferencing services allow you to suppress the join and leave tones so that participants can come and go on the call without interrupting the speaker.  This is usually a conference level setting and you can find out how to toggle this setting from your account manager.  At LoopUp, for example, you can toggle this setting, along with several other conference settings in your account area.

4. Turn Off ‘Announce Participant’

Similarly, some conferences are set to announce who is joining and leaving the call by playing “Now joining… Jane Smith” whenever a participant, in this case Jane, joins the call.  This would also become problematic on a big call, so toggle off ‘Announce Participant’ in your settings for a little less annoyance.

5. Use a Service That Shows You Who’s on the Call and Who’s Asking a Question.

‘Oh,’ Dear Reader, I hear you cry, ‘if I turn off all the boops and announcements, how do I know who’s on?’  The sad reality is that for many services, you really won’t know who’s on the call.  However, my conjecture is that it is better not to know as people come and go than to have the constant audio interruption of ‘boops’ and ‘Now joining…’ messages.  The real answer is that you should use a service that lets you see the names and LinkedIn information for participants as they come and go, allow you to control each leg, see who’s talking when a question is asked and provide you with a detailed call summary after the call.  However, that service is LoopUp (!) and it would be a little self-serving to talk about it in too much depth here.

6. Sometimes You Can Switch on ‘Lecture Mode’ If the Style of Meeting Merits

‘Lecture mode’ allows you to set the conference so that all participants join the call ‘muted’ and have to hit a DTMF combination like “*6” or “##1” to unmute themselves and contribute to the call.  This can often be a great setting to switch on for a big call where you often find participants joining from the road, an airport, walking down the street or, heaven forbid, a toilet whilst not knowing how to mute their line.

7. If You Want to Share a Presentation, Use a Sharing Solution That Minimizes the Possibility of Failure for the Participants on the Call

One of the eternally annoying things about participating on a big call when someone is sharing something is that many of the widely used platforms require the viewer to download a piece of software or a plug-in to just view what the call leader is sharing.  Inevitably someone on the call can’t get the download to work due to permission settings or general adherence to the views of Ned Ludd but either way the call is left in disarray while the call leader scrambles to fix the issue or email out the slides.  I would recommend a service where, at least on the viewer side, the solution uses technology that does not require a download.  Here, I’d recommend a simple screen sharing solution such as, you guessed it, LoopUp.  Before the call it is worth doing a quick dry run to make sure everything is properly configured on your end.  Use a wired internet connection rather than WiFi if you can, as spotty WiFi can cause havoc as you share your presentation or whatever other content you wish to show.

8. Don’t Forget ‘Mute All’!

If all else fails, and you were unable to heed the advice above and the call descends into cacophonic anarchy of background noise and boops, you can always pull out the ‘mute all’ command, putting all participants on ‘mute’ so at least you can be heard.  Mute All is typically accessible via a DTMF command, a nuclear option maybe, but it will restore a semblance of order to the proceedings.

The bottom line is that using an ‘old school’ reservationless conferencing service for a large call is a little like taking a velociraptor to perform dressage.  You can guarantee two things, it will certainly be eventful; and you won’t really be in control.  However, following the tips above, you may just be able to scramble through a call or two until you discover the virtues of using a service that gives you the visibility, security and control you need to glide through a conference call like you’re riding Valegro at the Olympics.

Related posts:
5 tips to stop wasting time on conference calls
Perhaps less is more for video conferencing
Multitasking on conference calls: agree with it or not, here’s how

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