The days on the calendar are quickly being crossed off and as we get closer to Christmas, my thoughts change from wrapping up that final spreadsheet to wrapping up gifts instead. I started to think about how the many conference calls I’m on each week resemble different types of Christmas trees I’ve seen over the years.
Just as no two trees are the same, no two conference calls are exactly alike either. Whether it’s the group of participants dialing in, the conferencing technology being used or the length of the meeting, there are plenty of variables that determine the overall tone and productivity of a call. The same can be said for Christmas trees. Between the number of tree sizes, species and decorating strategies, the final product possibilities seem endless.
As you finish decorating your own tree (or dial into your last few calls of 2014), see if you recognize any of these similarities.
1. A strong foundation is important.
Even the most ornate, tasteful Christmas tree may not be what it appears—or it might be waiting for one bump to lose all its needles. As with trees, conference calls need substance to be successful. Having access to video and mobile conferencing tools or advanced multimedia-sharing capabilities doesn’t mean much if participants don’t use them.
Before decking out your meetings with bells and whistles, make sure you and the other attendees understand how to make the most of them. There’s nothing worse than spending your entire meeting time fumbling around with the conferencing software.
2. Quality matters.
Most of us have probably witnessed (or experienced firsthand) the almost-perfect Christmas tree; despite a strong mix of decorations, your eye is instantly drawn to a flickering bulb or cracked bauble.
The same is true in conference calls. Poor quality of service—bad connections and crackling voices—means you have to try to fill in the blanks rather than hearing the important information someone is trying to share. Similarly, we all know what it is like to have the one inattentive or overly chatty participant who throws off the flow of a meeting and detracts from getting things done.
3. The perfect balance is key.
If you have ever seen a tree decorated by little kids you know what I’m talking about: a big clump of ornaments all in one spot about three feet off the ground that cause the branches to droop.
Scheduling conference calls with an excessive amount of participants can have similar adverse effects, from disengaged callers to disputes over who’s running the meeting. Instead, structure smaller meetings that are limited to relevant stakeholders and designate who owns the agenda from the start.
4. Collaborations makes the best tree/call.
Who can forget the sparse sapling Chuck picks out in A Charlie Brown Christmas? In the end, a little collaboration from the Peanuts gang transformed the flimsy plant into a model tree. The moral of the story: even lackluster conference calls can be saved.
Give meetings a tune-up by offering attendees the ability to use video, chat one-on-one and annotate documents in real-time or replace meeting hold music with news clips to get the conversation going. Interactivity is the key to collaboration.
5. You get what you pay for.
How can we talk about Christmas without including the Griswolds? In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark takes it upon himself to pull his own, gargantuan Christmas tree straight out of the ground. The tree barely fits through the front door and continues to ignite (literally) more chaos throughout the movie.
When it comes to conferencing and Christmas trees, the quick “do-it-yourself” route is not always the smartest. There are plenty of free and “freemium” conferencing tools available today, but many of these alternatives provide questionable call quality, limited functionality and disruptive ads. Relying on professionals (for Christmas tree selection and enterprise-grade conferencing solutions) ensures that you won’t have to put out fires later on.
Can you see any resemblances between the conference calls you’re on and any of these Christmas trees? Are there comparisons I missed? Maybe next year you’ll realize your calls are as perfect as the tree in Rockefeller Plaza.