In this age of flexible working, more and more people are working from home, or work in global organisations that mean we have to communicate with contacts who could be located anywhere in the world. With the cost of travel, concerns over the effect of travel on the environment, it is not surprising that the conference call is becoming a viable alternative to the face-to-face meeting. Get the most out of your conference call by following the six tips outlined below:
Always have an Agenda
As with a face to face meeting, having an agenda is the key to success. When writing an agenda for a conference call, always ensure that the instructions for accessing the call are at the top of the agenda. At the very least you will have to ensure that meeting attendees know the number to dial, the conference “room” number to enter and the security code or PIN.
Is the conference call is a regular scheduled catch up? If so, ensure you send out the minutes’ from the last meeting, this will also act as a reminder of any actions that attendee’s agreed to complete.
Housekeeping is still important
Before you get to the main agenda for the call, do a roll call to ensure everyone is there, don’t forget to introduce any newcomers to the group, inviting them to spend a couple of minutes introducing themselves and their role is also a good idea. If anyone is missing consider calling them on their mobile to get them onto the call as quickly as possible. If you cannot contact them and get them on the call within a couple of minutes, start without them. Delays at the beginning of a conference call will impact the overall quality of the call.
Next, make sure everyone can hear each other and that they all have a copy of the agenda. Make sure someone is nominated to take notes. This ensures that a single set of meeting notes are available after the call. Rather than everyone taking their own notes and interpreting what has been discussed in different ways.
Have ground rules in place
It is important to put in place a set of ground rules to govern call interaction. Unless your call is a video conference the absence of visual cues as to when someone wishes to speak will be missing. Keep ground rules simple for example “refrain from asking questions until after each agenda item”, if you want something more complicated, you can use the “round table conferencing” method. This is when you have speakers, speak in order and are only allowed to speak when it is their turn. Although it takes a little while to get used to, it can be very effective; as it keeps participants engaged, and reduces the time it takes to complete each agenda item.
Clearly you have to have some flexibility around the ground rules, but stating them at the beginning of the conference call will ensure things run smoothly.
Speaker phones and conference calls make a bad combination
Unless a majority of participants are in the same room, or you have a good quality speaker phone, turn the speaker phone off. Speaker phones and conference calls make for a bad combination, So as to prevent feedback; most speaker phones are designed to automatically mute the speaker when a loud sound is heard at the microphone. There are very few speaker phones that do this well, and will often mute the speaker because of its own output feeding back into the microphone. This leads to drop outs, missed words or sentences and lots of frustration.
As it’s a conference call, it can be some minutes before a participant is able to rejoin the call and say “We missed all that!” You then have to repeat yourself which is both time consuming and irritating for all the non-speaker phone participants.
Ensure that everyone on the conference call quickly receives a copy of the meeting notes, whilst the call is still fresh in participants’ minds.
Keep it Brief
Most people have a concentration span of a maximum of forty minutes, so this is the maximum time a call should last.
If you find your conference calls regularly go beyond this time frame, you may have to revisit the agenda, or have more, shorter focussed calls with different groups. Instead of having engineers and sales people on the same conference call, split them up and have just one person from each to group attend each call to provide feedback.
With practice, you will be able to manage your conference calls and keep most of them to twenty minutes at the most.
Till Next Time
Mike Gardner – The Time Doctor