Ah, the infamous conference call. What was once a technology touted for its ability to connect people without the convenience of distance, now bears the brunt of many jokes, like this gem from McSweeney's Internet Tendency. It sounded like a great concept, but unfortunately, too many conference calls are riddled with confusion caused by people speaking over each other. Being invisible also makes it easier to goof off. According to a 2014 study from Intercall, 65% of respondents have admitted to doing other work while on a conference call. What's even more frightening is 47% have said they've been going to the restroom and 43% were exercising. Without visual cues, it kind of just invites us to zone out. Here are some tips to help making your conference call run a lot smoother.

Get the time right, and confirm with all parties involved.

We can't tell you how many times we've heard of foiled conference call plans, especially when overseas parties are involved. Make sure you've correctly established whether time was in PST, EST, CST, or alien time. The best way to make sure you're right is to send out a calendar invite. At least 24-hours prior to the call, confirm by email.

Get the right number and pin.

It seems pretty hard to mess this up, but we've borne witness to random people joining our conference call because they sent out a conference line that was already in use. If your company uses one or two conference lines, make sure they will be clear before you schedule your call. Dial carefully!

Have an agenda beforehand.

Saying, "We're having a conference call to discuss X" leaves the whole line open to a free-for-all. Instead, designate a leader to prepare an agenda and send it to all parties. This person will then lead the discussion and act as moderator. Divide the agenda by parties who will be speaking on certain topics, and give them a devoted amount of time, like in presidential debates. This will ensure that people know when to talk and are not talking over each other, to much frustration.

Set a time limit.

The best meetings are brief ones. When you have an agenda, there is no room for tangents and diversions. People tend to get carried away when they don't see the bored faces of their compatriots yawning back at them. It's the moderator's job to help move things along and keep efficiency in mind.

Choose your party wisely.

Do you really need the whole 35-person marketing team on the phone? We highly doubt it. Choose only key players that have decision-making power to be included in the meeting. They can then relay the information to others. The more cooks in the kitchen, the more difficult it will be to get your point across.

Focus.

It's super easy to be doing other things while on a conference call, but we urge you to focus. Close your laptop, even close your eyes if need be. Excess stimuli will make it harder to concentrate and listen to the voice on the phone. Check your social media on your lunch break. You're working now.

Be specific.

Instead of asking a general question to the group, always address people by their names. This will lessen the confusion over who should be speaking at any given time. It's like calling "I got it!" in volley ball. Otherwise, everyone rushes into the ball and ends up on the floor.

Speak up.

If you have something to say, say it. Don't pepper the room with "excuse me"'s and "I'm sorry"'s. Own it. Also, speak loudly and clearly, so you don't have to keep repeating yourself.

Audio conferencing is somewhat a thing of the past, considering the new use of video conferencing at offices. But if you're going old school, do it right.

For more on the best conference call systems, click here.

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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

Getty Images/Maria Stavreva

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