Remotely Managing Project Teams – Audio Conferencing

This is the first in a series of articles providing hints and tips on how best to remotely manage project teams. In this article, we will gain an insight into proven ways to get the most out of running your meetings via audio link.

Audio conferencing is a tool that has been available to the project manager for a number of years. There are a variety of service providers (e.g. Webex, Genesys, etc) and, whilst the tools they provide may vary from company to company, their offerings are broadly the same.

How does audio conferencing work?

  • The meeting organiser creates an account with an appropriate service provider – they are then provided with a master phone number (often with regional / international alternatives) and a conference number which is controlled via a Personal Identification Number (PIN).
  • The meeting organiser sends out an invitation to potential participants who, accept, decline or mark as tentative, the appointment in their diary.
  • At the appointed time, attendees phone up using the supplied phone number. When the call connects, they type in the conference number and wait for the meeting organiser to insert their PIN to open the call.
  • Normally, participants are announced by an audible ‘beep’ but, they may be given the opportunity to record their name which is then announced as they join / leave the call.
  • Any number of participants can join the call and so it is a great tool for getting everyone together to cascade information or to discuss project progress.

How can you get the most out of audio conferencing?

  • Restrict the number of attendees to those that are likely to contribute the most to the audio session. This will save on resource time and also keep the number of participants to a manageable level.
  • As meeting organiser, rather then opening the call through your telephone handset, access the audio conference through the web portal that will be supplied to you by the service provider; this will give you greater functionality and enable you to control the call more easily.
  • When you access the call via the website, you are able to easily perform the following tasks and identify at a glance, the status of each function:
    • See how many people have dialled into your call.
    • Identify who each line belongs to (you can even label them) so you know who is talking even if you have not known the group long and find it difficult to tell voices apart.
    • Close the virtual meeting room door to stop unwanted participants from joining the call.
    • Easily identify and mute individual lines if someone is in a noisy environment – background noise can be a real distraction to everyone on the call. You can also use this function (in extreme cases) if someone is behaving inappropriately or is not allowing others to speak.
    • Mute everyone’s line so they can only hear what you have to say; the lines can then be opened again once you have finished your presentation, so you can take individual questions from your attendees.
    • Disconnect  the call at the end of the meeting to ensure the line is closed, forcing all participants to leave the virtual meeting room.

In summary, audio conferencing can be a great way to bring geographically remote teams together to interact and move project tasks forward.  You can gain greater control of your meeting by accessing each session through the web portal rather than through your telephone handset.

Instant Messaging – Friend or Foe?

As the 21st century gathers momentum, it is bringing with it the increased expectation that we will find rapid answers to our questions – at home and in the workplace.  The internet has opened up a whole new medium for researching, gathering, sharing and receiving knowledge very quickly.  This is backed up by more and more options when it comes to communicating with our peers: telephony (in particular, mobile phones); emails; text messages; video calls and instant messaging; to name a few.

When used in the right way, the increased ability to communicate clearly and quickly can only be a good thing.  However, what happens when good manners and sensible protocols are discarded; when communication becomes a distraction to the task in hand?  Instant messaging is perhaps the best example of this very real danger.

Designed to enable a quick exchange of dialogue between two or more participants, it can be a great tool to obtain a fast response to an urgent query.  All too often though, instant messaging can be a devil in disguise as it encourages bad grammar and poor meeting etiquette.  It can also be the source of bad manners and that is never a good thing in business.

  • Bad Grammar – by its very nature, instant messaging encourages us to use poorly constructed sentences; words are often also abbreviated or written phonetically in a kind of ‘text talk’.  This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.  In extreme cases, it can lead to participants completely misunderstanding each other – without even realising it.  If you are familiar with the abbreviated form, LOL might be interpreted as ‘Laugh Out Load’ but what if the recipient is only vaguely familiar with this form of communication and interprets it as ‘Lots Of Love’?
  • Poor Meeting Etiquette – have you even been in a meeting with someone whose attention is suddenly distracted by an instant message which they then proceed to answer, leaving you hanging mid-sentence?  This sort of action is a distraction to everyone in the meeting and can cause you to lose valuable time while the message recipient responds to their message and then takes time to re-engage with your own discussion which was already in hand.  The same principle applies if you are having a one-to-one conversation with someone.
  • Bad Manners – this really encompasses both of the above and potentially more besides!  Needless to say, there is no place for bad manners in good business.

BIG’s Conclusion: When it is used correctly, instant messaging can be a fantastic tool that can be used to improve business communication.  But it is all too easy for us to slip into bad habits; more often than not we become the perpetrators of bad actions without even realising it.  This leads me to conclude that we must all be vigilant so as to avoid falling into the trap of poor communication.  So, take time to reflect on your own actions and circumstances: is instant messaging a friend or a foe in your life and in your business?

Presentations – 7 Basic Design Rules

You must keep in mind that visual design is only one-third of the package required for a successful presentation; the other two being content and delivery. Like a fine dining experience that requires equal parts food, service and atmosphere to really work, the visual design part of the presentation process is every bit as necessary as the others to achieve the desired result – in this case, true knowledge transfer.

Here are some tips to help you achieve the best results:

  1. Maintain Paragraph Integrity. All 1st Level Paragraph text must be the same size in every slide. Likewise, all 2nd Level Paragraph text must be smaller and of a different colour. Lastly, don’t go beyond the 3rd Level, and this text should not be smaller than 20 points. If all information of the same importance is of the same size throughout your presentation, your audience will immediately gauge just how important this information is with each click of the slide.
  2. Choose Your Font Carefully. Rarely is there a need to use more than two different fonts in any presentation. However, it is important that the font(s) you choose is easy to read and calm to the eye.  Arial is a good font in this respect because it is clear, rounded and easy to read; avoid obscure fonts as they distract from your message and, if they are difficult to read, your audience will soon stop trying.
  3. Design Simplicity. Without a sense of good design, which in most cases means simply showing restraint, animations can quickly overwhelm an otherwise well laid-out presentation. The trick is to introduce concepts one at a time in a way that doesn’t draw more attention than the concepts themselves; a well animated presentation should simply appear to “happen”, without a clue as to why it seems so easy to follow.
  4. Be Colourful – Light On Dark. Although black-and-white works as an art form in many ways, humans tend to like colour. While humans can discern a dozen or so shades of gray, they can see millions of different colors. We’ve evolved to use our sense of color to survive – help your audiences survive your presentation by not blinding them with black on white.
  5. Less Is More. This rule is central to good presentation design, but absolutely essential for graphs or charts. Keep them simple and don’t overcrowd.  You might consider providing handouts for more indepth data but, remember, your audience will be viewing your presentation from a distance and will have difficulty reading small annotations or complex graphs. You will make your point much more effectively if you limit your displayed data to the information the audience is likely to remember. Less information becomes more retention of the key facts that you really want them to go home with.
  6. One Concept Per Visual. When more than one concept appears at the same time, your audience will become distracted: this explains why a 45-slide presentation, properly broken down into one concept per slide, takes less time to present than the same information packed into 15 slides.
  7. Favour Right-Brain Information. We humans have evolved with two different ways to deal with stimuli from the outside world so that we can react to it in the way most likely to keep us alive. Our right brain reacts to input such as colours, graphics, shapes and patterns instantly, without stopping to process the information first. Our left brain kicks in when presented with speech, text or numbers; however, with this kind of information we first pause to analyze it before storing or reacting to it. We have filters on the left side on the brain, and not everything gets through.

If you want your ideas to strike fast and be readily absorbed, then every time you can, work out how to turn your left-brain type data into shapely and colourful right-brain images.