About two years ago we were working on an event that involved production teams from the U.S., China, and Australia. As we reviewed lighting diagrams and room designs on countless conference calls, team members struggled through language barriers, time-zone struggles, and cultural differences in phone etiquette. It was not easy, nor productive. And, even in the absence of these types of struggles, conference calls can be an awkward blend of the bossy talker dominating conversation, an agenda too packed to give everyone a chance to share, and sometimes not knowing if everyone is literally on the same page. In our industry, we need to coordinate with remote teams, both internal and external, all the time.

Here are a few of my best tools for getting past the conference call ickies and improving virtual team productivity.

Scheduling Tools
By now, most people are familiar with Doodle, which allows you to poll your team for time and date availability. It’s easy to use and doesn’t require registration. There are also a couple of more sophisticated options. The first is TimeBridge, which allows you not only to poll for availability, but also to create an agenda, action items, and notes. You also can attach an audio-conferencing number to your invitation via freeconferencecall.com This is probably my favorite aspect of TimeBridge. TimeTrade, another great option, integrates with Salesforce, Marketo, and Eloqua. This free-plus-paid-option solution (freemium) is geared heavily toward enterprise users.

Collaboration Tools
If your team needs to review documents or brainstorm, you’ll need some sort of group collaboration space. A document-viewing and whiteboard utility can be especially helpful if you want to annotate diagrams/drawings. It’s also fantastic to have a chat functionality, so you can have sidebar conversations and instant feedback on what the speaker is saying—which is generally stored as a transcript! There’s always good old Gotomeetings or Webex, but a few of my other favorites are:

1. Join.me—an audio bridge with desktop sharing.

2. Speek—which is especially cool because there is no phone number or pin to remember. Participants can either go to a simple link (i.e., Speek.com/MidoriConnolly), or even send a text to be joined to the call.

3. MeetingSamurai—a useful tool for board meetings with robust note-taking features. You can vote on actions and assign tasks—it even has a “parking lot” for various agenda items.

4. Google Docs—now called Google Drive, this is a familiar technology to most people. It’s also reliable, and it has an often-overlooked chat feature for conference calls. I particularly like it for brainstorming on wording, such as conference themes and session titles.

5. LiveMinutes—if you use Evernote, you should check out this platform. You can actually co-edit notes for Evernote in real time! Plus it has  whiteboard/sketch and some really fantastic recordings of the meeting minutes.

6. Prezi—often used as just a presentation tool, Prezi is also a fantastic tool for co-creation; up to 10 people can simultaneously edit and view an infinite white space.

7. ConferencePad—This is a great tool if you want to use an iPad for remote collaboration. You can view and annotate documents remotely once everyone is logged in. And it’s of value even if you’re all in the same room with iPads because you can view a presentation without needing to hassle with presentation equipment.

Whether you’re talking to lighting designers in China or your colleague in the next city, I hope these are a few tools that will make it that much easier and more effective.

Midori Connolly is “Chief AVGirl” at Pulse Staging & Events and senior tech adviser to 7 Degrees Communications. In addition to owning and operating an AV company, she is a professional speaker and writer. Connolly specializes in providing end-to-end hybrid meeting design, strategic planning, and technological execution. Her passion is to make technology more human, approachable, and sustainable. You can reach her at midori@pulsestaging.com or via Twitter: @AVGirlMidori.

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