The 5 Things Taxes and Video Conferences Have in Common
April 15, 2014 @ 10:29 AM | By Jill Huselton

April 15th looms large in the minds of U.S. taxpayers. Even though it arrives on the same day each year, Tax Day sends many people into full-blown panic mode—especially if they have waited until the last minute to file their returns.

Video conferences can make people feel that way, too. The proverbial “shoebox full of receipts” is to the last minute tax payer, what a quickly approaching conference date is to an event host. Regardless of how much planning you have done, the video-conference host often asks him or herself: will my event fall flat?

5 Things Taxes and Video Conferences Have in Common

We’ve heard both of these scenarios many, many times. Therefore, we couldn’t help but draw a parallel between taxes and video-conferences. They have more in common than one might think:

1. Taxes and Video Conferencing require strategies.

The organizations and people we admire the most are diligent about preparing plans of action designed to achieve an overall goal. A tax strategy, for example, often means reducing risk and liabilities. When it comes to video conferencing, you’ll need a strategy that improves your ability to manage outcomes by aligning your presentation with clearly defined goals. If it’s done properly, your strategy should connect the reason you are doing the video-conference with the specific outcomes your organization hopes to achieve.

2. The more organized you are, the less stressful it is.

Ever notice that some people never seem to flinch when you say, “April 15th”? How about the ever-confident video-conference host that didn’t lose a wink of sleep the night before her event?; Their secret is being organized. Whether you’re dealing with a tax deadline or an approaching video-conference event, thinking ahead and planning for emergencies will set you free.

3. Assistance is often required with taxes and video conferencing.

Not all taxpayers are equipped to handle every tax situation on their own, and that’s where tax professionals enter the picture. Likewise, you may or may not be equipped to handle every aspect of your video conference. If you’re out of your depth in a specific area, recruit internal and/or external assistance. In some cases, that could mean working with your IT department to manage the technical aspects of the conference; in other cases, it could involve bringing in an outside expert or pundit to conduct part of the presentation.

4. Both can be inspiring and spur opportunity.

The best tax preparers constantly look for opportunities to leverage the tax code for financial advantage. Truly memorable video conferences result in participants who find opportunities to extend and share the conversation, carrying the momentum into social media circles or other online communities long after the video conference ends.

5. Taxes, like video conferences, can inspire improvement.

This year’s tax season is drawing to a close, but next year’s tax season is already underway. Smart taxpayers use their filed returns to inform and improve future tax strategies. By conducting thorough post-meeting analysis, you can improve the planning, execution and outcomes of your next video conference.

Video conferences can be just as intimidating as tax returns. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be successful at either one. With your taxes, having the right forms, software or accountant can make it a pretty painless process. The same is true with video conferencing; with the right combination of planning, preparation and strategy, you’ll be on your way to an effective and fruitful meeting.

Jill HuseltonJill Huselton is a senior marketing manager at InterCall. She's been in the conferencing industry for nearly 15 years, working in operations, account management and marketing, mainly based in Colorado. Before leaving the Mile-High City, she hiked a 14er, one of her top accomplishments. Now she's traded the mountains for the beach and works from a home office in North Carolina.

Top 3 Dos and Don'ts of Conference Calling
April 10, 2014 @ 12:30 PM | By Jill Huselton

When it comes to conference calls, small talk can feel like a pointless exercise that doesn’t contribute anything to the topic at hand. But small talk is important because it lays the foundation for the rest of the call—and if you blow it, you can easily sabotage the objectives you hoped to achieve from the conference. 

Small Talk on Conference Calls

Why Small Talk Matters in Conference Calls

Time is a precious commodity and it’s natural for conference callers to want to immediately jump into meatier matters. But small talk has its place because it facilitates the exchange of basic information, builds rapport and gives call participants the opportunity to ease into the conversation.

Think of it this way: if the conference call is a house, small talk is the foyer. Everyone knows that the group will eventually end up in the dining room or living room, but there has to be an entryway—the space designed to transition guests into the main living area. It would be awkward to enter the house through a main room, even if the architecture allowed it.

Conference calls are constructed in a similar manner. Small talk opens the door to more substantive conversations. So like it or not, you’re going to have to learn how to talk small (and how to do it well) if you want to upgrade your conferencing skill set.

Dos and Don'ts of Conference Calls

In audio-only calls, the absence of physical cues and eye contact can make small talk even more challenging. With that in mind, here are a few dos and don’ts to help you convert small talk into a springboard for a successful conference. 

Do ….

1. Do ... Listen more than you talk in conference. 

People who monopolize small talk conversations are irritating. To avoid turning off other meeting participants, live by the general rule of listening more than you talk during this initial portion of conference calls.

2. Do ... Ask simple questions.

When it’s time to talk, consider asking general, non-business-related questions that build rapport and establish the backgrounds of others on the call. For example, by simply asking where the other participants are located you can stimulate a short conversation that uncovers valuable information about other callers.

3. Do ... Remember names of conference call participants.

It’s common for people to introduce themselves during small talk. Make an effort to remember everyone’s name and try to associate it with their voice to avoid embarrassment later in the conversation,. (Hint By using web conferencing services that integrate with the audio call, you can see who’s talking to help keep it all straight.)

Don’t ...

1. Don't ... Talk business at the begining of the conference call. 

Try to avoid jumping into business topics during small talk. There will be plenty of time for that later and by discussing business topics before everyone has joined the call, you can create confusion because some people won’t be up-to-speed—even if they joined the call on time.

2. Don't ... Gossip on conference calls. 

Gossip about competitors or other topics isn’t appropriate for small talk. Remember: your goal is to create a connection and establish a foundation for the rest of the call, not to trash other individuals or companies.

3. Don't ... Discuss politics, religion or sex in conference.

It’s just common sense that you should avoid controversial topics during small talk. If you’re going to offend other call participants, make sure it’s due to a legitimate business reason—not because you thought an off-color joke would make a great ice-breaker.

Finally, the rule of thumb for small talk is to make the conversation as inclusive as possible. If you choose to strike up a conversation about an exclusive experience you had with one or two other call participants, you will instantly alienate everyone else on the call and miss an opportunity to set an inclusive tone for the rest of your conference.

Tell us about your strategy for kicking-off a conference call. What topics for small talk have you found worked or failed?

Jill HuseltonJill Huselton is a senior marketing manager at InterCall. She's been in the conferencing industry for nearly 15 years, working in operations, account management and marketing, mainly based in Colorado. Before leaving the Mile-High City, she hiked a 14er, one of her top accomplishments. Now she's traded the mountains for the beach and works from a home office in North Carolina.

Free Conference Call Services - 5 Reasons they are NOT a Bargain
April 1, 2014 @ 09:15 AM | By Tonya Hottmann

Running a small business can be expensive and cutting corners is sometimes a necessity. So, free services can seem very appealing. When it comes to business critical applications, however, free generally means low quality and inconsistency which can leave a bad impression on your customers and hurt your profits. There are some crucial factors to weigh before selecting “free," especially with essential business communications.

You want to be able to control the message and how it is delivered. Free conference call providers don't offer this capability.

Free conference calls can be frustrating and unproductive.

 

With the future of your business on the line, you shouldn't take chances with an unreliable service. Here are the top five reasons free conference calls are NOT a bargain:

1. Free Conference Calls - What message are you sending?

Ever join a call where all you hear is crackling, humming or bad echoes? How about finding yourself asking others to repeat themselves quite frequently? It’s likely a free service that doesn’t provide professional quality technology, which is where free providers have cut corners.

The success of your business is on the line with every call you make. Because the point of a conference call is to communicate, it’s worthless if you can’t hear what others are saying. When you are on a call with a prospective investor or key client, do you really want to risk your reputation with unreliable service?

Bad reception equals bad perception.

2. Free conference calls are never really free.

“Free” conference calling services are based on toll numbers, not toll-free, so they are subject to long distance charges, taxes and other fees. Who pays those charges? Everyone on the call pays. Yes, even your customers during an important client meeting pay for the privilege of joining your call. Since these are U.S. based toll numbers, any international participants will be subject to exorbitantly high long distance charges.

“Free” conferencing services emanate from a loophole in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Rural areas have traditionally high infrastructure costs for wireless and phone carriers, so the carriers often team up with “Free” services and provide them access to their rural lines.

This method of “traffic pumping” helps them generate more volume to pass on to carriers as a fee. You may not know it, but the phone number you are dialing is in a remote area that will almost always be a long distance call for all participants. Plus the carriers can pass on these fees to all customers in higher rates. There are several court cases currently pending on the legality of this business model.

Do you really want your customers footing the bill?

3. No room for growth with free conferencing services.

As your business expands, so do your communication needs. Most “free” conference call services are geared to very, very small businesses with minimal calling needs. If you need to reliably share slides, have multiple numbers or require call security, a trusted, well-established service provider will offer the best solutions.

As your business grows and you add international customers or locations, a provider with a vast global footprint will be able to effectively and cost efficiently assist you with your communications needs.
Many organizations see substantial productivity improvements and cost-savings by integrating all their interactions into one unified communication solution, which combines both online and offline connections. Find a service provider that can handle multiple solutions, both on premises and cloud-based, which will offer the best variety.

As you plan for growth, find a communications provider that you can grow with you.

4. Good luck finding any extra conferencing services or features.

Full service conferencing providers offer additional features such as free mobile apps, easy calendar integration, detailed conferencing reports, sub-conferencing for breakout sessions, muting, disconnecting, on demand playback of recordings and much more. Before committing to a service, ask yourself questions such as:

  • How important is it that I can control the conversation?
  • Will I need to playback my calls later?
  • Do I need to host or join meetings from the road?
  • Will I need to quickly schedule and join meetings?
  • Will I ever want to have professional introductions with operator lead calls?

Think of the types of calls you will have in the future, any special requirements you’ll need and plan accordingly.

5. With free conference calls, connection isn't guaranteed.

“Free” conference call providers rely on the infrastructure of others, so there is no guarantee that your call will actually be connected.  Your conference information would be subject to outages, peak time and service availability.

Trusted providers not only own the infrastructure they operate, they operate at fractional capacity to ensure peak times are covered and service delivery is consistent.  They can also provide technical assistance and support as needed to ensure all your calls run smoothly.

What good is a call when it can’t be connected?

The Bottom Line – There’s no such thing as a free call.

While free can be appealing as a method to cut costs, it is important to decide where saving a few pennies actually impacts your business.  Conference calling services account for less than 4% of the total cost of a meeting. 

An estimated 5 million labor hours are spent per year in meetings.  How productive can your meetings be when you have to ask people to repeat themselves, rejoin dropped calls or hunt for conference codes?  

Free conference calling services don’t provide the level of professionalism, advanced services or room for growth that experienced providers do.  Communication is the most vital element of your business and central to any type of transaction.  

If you can’t be there in person, you need a professional alternative that reinforces your business value. Spend management is essential for all businesses, but the lowest cost isn’t always the best value. After all, would you really want brain surgery performed by the cheapest surgeon? The same holds true with communication providers.

Tonya Hottmann imageTonya Hottmann is the director of marketing at InterCall, responsible for eCommerce and small business. Before joining InterCall, Tonya ran a boutique marketing consulting firm for 10 years. She has worked in the digital and technology marketing sector since 1997, growing start-ups and launching eCommerce solutions. In her free time, she enjoys reading, sports and traveling.

Conference Call Preparation Check List
March 27, 2014 @ 01:09 PM | By Christina Todisco

Any significant endeavor or operation can benefit from a checklist—especially conference calls. If CEOs, busy parents, and even Santa Claus uses them, there's got to be some benefit to using a checklist, right? What better way to make sure you turn the heat down before leaving for vacation, pick up those eggs at the supermarket or change that word at the end of the meeting brief you wrote yesterday?

Before you pick up that phone and hop on your next conference call, make sure to run down yours. If you don’t have one yet, borrow from ours:

 

Conference Call Checklist
Prepare for your conference call with the InterCall checklist.

 

Prepare for the conference call:

  1. Have I emailed invitations to the call?
  2. Do the invitations include the correct time and date for the call?
  3. Do the invitations have all the necessary pass codes and dial-in numbers or better yet, a link to the conference so the system dials to the participants?
  4. Have I reserved a quiet location where distractions will be minimal to nonexistent?

The meat of your meeting:

  1. Have I created an agenda for the call?
  2. If the call will include a guest speaker, have I set aside adequate time?
  3. Have I decided on a format?
  4. Do I have a clear goal in mind for this call?
  5. Have I collected and organized my notes?
  6. Do I have all the participants’ names?
  7. Have I provided the participants with any materials they might need?
  8. Does each participant know his or her role (secretary, moderator, etc.)?

The technicalities:

  1. Am I familiar with how to record the call for future reference?
  2. Have I done a practice run to ensure the sound is of high quality?
  3. Do I know how to reach technical support if something comes up?
  4. If the meeting involves a web conference, has everyone sharing documents downloaded the software?

Tell us, do you have a meeting checklist that has helped you?

Christina TodiscoChristina Todisco is a marketing manager at InterCall and has been in the conferencing industry since 2002. Christina currently provides product marketing support for InterCall’s audio services, reporting and invoice solutions and InterCall Online. When not working, Christina enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, family and friends.

2014 Big Ten Tournament Recap - Live Tweets and Great Games
March 18, 2014 @ 08:23 AM | By InterCall Blog

As part of our partnership with the Big Ten Conference, InterCall live tweeted the 2014 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament and hosted a VIP event for clients and friends. Here's how it went:

As a result of InterCall's Big Ten Tournament VIP event, our partnership with the Big Ten Conference and live Tweeting of the games, we were able to:

  • Connect with 36 invited guests from 13 companies at the VIP event.
  • Gain brand exposure via ad placement in Bankers Life Fieldhouse (111,592 total attendance. TV viewership in millions).
  • Add 138 Tweets, 25 mentions on Twitter, 89 re-Tweets and 23 new Twitter followers.

Here is a picture taken at the VIP event at Pearl Street Grill in Indianapolis.

InterCall hosts VIP event at Big Ten Tournament

Live Tweeting the Big Ten Tourney Games

Before I get started about the live Tweeting, allow me to introduce myself - I'm Mike Mardis. Because I am an avid sports fan and social media junkie, I was sent by InterCall (full disclosure - by whom I am employed) to live Tweet the Big Ten Tournament.

This is me on the first day of the tournament entering Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

InterCall arrives at the Big Ten Tournament

Day One - Illinois, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern Advance

Day one saw Indiana University fall to the University of Illinois in the first game of the tournament by a score of 64-54. The game was closer than the final score indicates. The Hoosiers were only down one point with 2:00 to go in the game. But, the Illini hit a few shots while IU went cold.

IU falls to Illinois in the Big Ten Tourney opener.

Game two came down to the wire as the Ohio State Buckeyes squeaked out a victory over the Purdue Boilermakers by a score of 63-61. The Buckeye faithful were loud (as they always are) and it was an exciting game - a sign of things to come.

BTT3


The next game saw the Minessota Golden Gophers advance past the Penn State Nittany Lions with ease.

Up until this point, there were no real surprises in the Big Ten Tournament. But, that was about to change as Chicago's own Northwestern Wildcats took down the Iowa Hawkeyes 67-62.

BTT4

Day Two - Top 4 seeds in action. Spartans flex thier muscles.

Day two of the tournament started off with another great game that came down to the wire, The number one seeded Michigan Wolverines made their tournament debut and nearly made a quick exit at the hands of the Illini. Illinois had a shot at the buzzer to beat Michigan, but Tracy Abrams came up short and the Wolverines survived.

Michigan survives a scare from Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament.
Next up was we saw the Nebraska Cornhuskers take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes grabbed another close victory (71-67) on the back of LaQuinton Ross who put up 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. It was the last exciting game of the day, however. 

The next two games saw the Wisconsin Badgers rout Minnesota and The Michigan State Spartans bullied Northwestern in the late game 67-51.

The Big Ten Tournament final four was set - Michigan v. Ohio State and Wisconsin v. Michigan State.

Day three - Michigan over Buckeyes. Spartans keep rolling.

Day three was the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament and Bankers Life Fieldhouse was electric. The first game featured one of the best rivalries in all of college sports - Michigan v. Ohio State.

Ohio State falls to Michigan in 2014 Big Ten Tourney.

Michigan pulled out to an early lead, but Ohio State battled back to eventually get within striking distance at the end of the game. In the end, it was free throws that killed the Buckeyes. Michigan pulled out the 72-69 win to advance to the final. 

Missed Free throws bring down the Buckeyes at the Big Ten Tourney.

In the second semi-final game the number two seed Badgers of Wisconsin took on the number three seed Spartans of Michigan State. It was a showdown of two of the best mascots in the Big Ten.

Michigan State Spartans take on the Wisconsin Badgers

The Spartans built a massive lead behind one of the best 20:00 of basketball a single team can play in the first half. Michigan State lead the Badgers 43-26 at halftime in what looked like a blowout.

But, as Badgers tend to do when cornered, Wisconsin fought back in the second half. Behind a 28-point performance by Frank Kominsky, Wisconsin cut the Spartan's lead to 7 at one point. But, they would never get any closer as Michigan State won comfortably 83-75. It was a complete team effort by the Spartans as six players finished the game with double digit scoring efforts.

Day four - Michigan State v. Michigan for the title.

The final day of the tournament saw an all-Michigan Big Ten Conference Tournament final. The one seed Michigan was set to take on in-state rivals and three seed Michigan State.

The crowd was intense and loud. It felt like March in NCAA basketball. Too bad the game wasn't much of a contest. Michigan had beaten the Spartans twice in the regular season. But, come tournament time Tom Izzo has his men ready to play.

It's difficult to beat any team three times in one year. But, it's nearly impossible to beat a team as good as Michigan State three times in one year. The Spartans dominated the game from tip to final buzzer. Michigan never made it interesting.

Michigan State took the 2014 Big Ten Conference Tournament title 69-55 over Michigan.

Michigan State Spartans 2014 Big Ten Tournament Champs