8 tools to sharpen your Skype, Hangout and videoconferencing skills

Speaking with far-flung colleagues and clients has never been easier thanks to today’s technology. Here’s how to polish your skills.

There are new worlds to conquer when it comes to conference calls. Today, in addition to speaking on a speakerphone or using videoconferencing, you might be using Skype or Google+ hangouts to communicate with far-flung colleagues.

And let’s face it: Most of us do our “public speaking” in these kinds of meetings. To keep your skills sharp, I’ve collected these tools and resources:

1. Start with the most important call tool: you, the speaker. This roundup of 6 ways to work the phone will boost your effectiveness on phone calls of all kinds. I recommend you focus on the tips on pausing and tonality. People will notice the results.

2. What guides your videoconferences? Don’t just enter the room and hope for the best. This 7-step guide to a videoconferencing policy will help you think through and establish everything from how you look to how you and the group will handle transitions and pauses to let participants reply.

3. A new tool for live video chats is OnTheAir. This is described as “a combination of Google+ Hangouts, Skype and YouTube,” but without the plug-in requirements that come with Hangouts. You can schedule live conversations and moderate who gets to speak, and share the time of the chat to Twitter and Facebook. This might make for a better alternative if you want to speak long-distance to a class or small group.

4. Hear and be heard is the mantra for conference calls. You’ll do better at both with an excellent headset with a microphone attached. Here are the five best headsets, according to a Lifehacker poll. Along with a good remote, this, in my view, is a tool worth investing in for those of us who spend so much time on conference calls.

5. Saving that Skype? If you want to focus on the conversation without worrying about notes, use Callnote to save the audio portion of your Skype call. Doing so will put the audio file right into Evernote, one of my favorite applications. This could be an excellent practice tool that will let you hear how you sound on these calls. Don’t wince—hearing your voice is a great tool for improvement.

6. After the call, action items rule. If you use an Android device for your conference calls, try using these tips for “Call Actions and Reminders app.” This handy app guides your follow-up actions.

7. Go big or go home. Companies will look for Skype alternatives like these three new communication options from Cisco—out of price range for individual consumers—that include new videoconferencing tools, including Jabber, which lets employees “communicate via video, voice, presence, instant messaging, or Web conferencing.” Learn more about these options so you can suggest them when upgrade time rolls around at the office.

8. Presenters, hang out: Google+ has opened its video-chat Hangout to developers, and there are two apps available as presentation tools. There’s the SlideShare app, which lets you take presentations on that site and pull them into your hangout, and Cacoo, a free tool for making diagrams and flowcharts. Be sure to practice with a friendly gang of colleagues until you get comfortable integrating these tools into any presentations you do on Hangout.

Denise Graveline is the president of don’t get caught, a communications consultancy. She also writes The Eloquent Woman blog, where a version of this article originally ran.

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