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01 Jul 2014

Easing the trauma of telecons

Teleconferences or web conferences are always difficult. This video humorously illustrates the issues 
Nonetheless, they are a necessary evil in trying to make a global organisation of enthusiasts work together. RDA currently provides three teleconferencing tools: GoTo Meeting, Flash Meeting, and Big Blue Button. All have their pros and cons.
GoTo Meeting seems to be the most stable, but it is not fool proof. It allows for people to dial in by phone (local calls in many countries) as well as use the internet, which can be useful for travellers. It has a chat feature, decent video, screen sharing, etc. It's very important that people who are not speaking mute, though. Echo can be a commion problem. If you'd like to set up a GoTo meeting contact We can set it up for you, and if you have regular calls we can give you your own account so you can set things up yourself. To learn more take the GoTo tour
Flash Meeting is a flash-based tool that used to work quite well, but has been erratic of late (people keep getting dropped). It has the advantage of allowing only one person to speak at a time with a nice queing feature where people "raise their hand". Also once it is set up, it starts automatically. You don't need a moderator or administrator. It is internet only. No dial in. Unfortunately, only Herman can create a Flash meeting. Conact enquiries if you want to set something up.
Big Blue Button has the distinct advantage of being built right into the RDA web platform. When you are in your group space, you will see a box part way down on the right that says "Latest WebConference". Click on this to set things up. You will need to be a group administrator to moderate the meeting. I've only used the system once or twice, but it's quite nice when it works. The problem is that it is unreliable. Some people have had great luck with it, and some people not so much. Give it a try and see if it works for you. Anecdotal evidence suggests it works best when all the participants are in Europe.
Regardless of the tool, there are some things we can all do to make telecons work a little better. Here are some thoughts.

Recognize and accomodate time differences. The majority of RDA members may be clustered around the North Atlantic, but we are a global organization and are trying to be more so. We need to be respectful of people in Australia, east Asia, and elsewhers.  Pay attention to where callers are located and plan accordingly. The vagaries of when different places switch between summer time and standard time (if they switch at all) makes it all the more difficult. is a very useful site for planning things out and scheduling meetings. XKCD provides a nice visual representation of what time it is now all around the world. Be mindful of meetings at the beginning or end of the week because these may extend into the weekend for some participants.

Even with careful planning though, there is no time that works for everyone. As a result, some groups like TAB and OAB have implemented a rotating schedule that distributes the pain more fairly. Here is an example (note this is during summer time in the N. Hemisphere):

Date UTC Colorado New York London Paris Melbourne
date 1 12:00 6:00 8:00 13:00 14:00 22:00
date 2 21:00 15:00 17:00 22:00 23:00 7:00 (next day)

Regardless, of how you schedule things it is a good idea to baseline to Coordinated Universal Time or UTC (essentialy the same as Greenwhich Mean Time or GMT). Always include the time in UTC when informing people about a meeting. UTC doesn't change with the seasons and people can convert themselves. Also given how much people travel, you can never be really sure where everyone is.

Use conferencing tools effectively. Some basic rules:

  • Unless you have a good computer mike and quiet room, use a headset.
  • Mute yourself when not speaking (remember to unmute when speaking)
  • Slow down. Give people time to jump in. Speak clearly and succinctly. Pause before speaking or passing the line to someone else.
  • If the tool has a text chat feature, use it! It can be a great way to take a quick poll, register agreement, share links, etc. Chat can make telecons go much faster and more effectively (if it doesn't get overwhelming)
  • Consider recording the meeting. It makes a nice record that you or others can return to. Make sure evryone knows they are being recorded, though. Both Goto and FM allow recording.

Be extra polite. Recognize that much nuance and subtlety is lost. Be careful with your jokes. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. 

What other tips do people have for successful telecons?

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