Conference calls can make even the most patient person want to tear their hair out.
Think about the last time you were on a conference call with someone in a different location to you. Did you run into any communication challenges — people or technology related? Did you find yourself continually being talked over by other people in the call? Can you confidently say the call was more beneficial to those in attendance than an email thread or conversation via Slack, Skype or another platform? Depending on how well prepared you are, conference calls can be extremely productive or a complete waste of time — I imagine for most of us the latter is generally closer to the truth.
Some people will invest the time in preparing well for the call, will arrive early, knows the agenda, and will only speak when it’s their time to share their thoughts. Others, however, will turn up late for calls, ignore the mute button, talk over others, experience connection problems that could have been avoided, and won’t follow the pre-agreed agenda. It’s not surprising the results from a Harvard Business Review survey found that out of 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.
With that in mind, we have compiled some tips to help you prepare for effective conference call meetings that stay on topic, actively engage those in attendance, and have a meaningful impact on your work.
1) PLAN THE AGENDA AND SHARE IT IN ADVANCE
Without a clear game plan, you’re setting the meeting up for failure. Gathering together for a remote meeting takes time and effort that could better be used for other tasks if you haven’t outlined what you want the call to accomplish, what actions need to be assigned, and what questions need to be asked during it. Once you have a plan that outlines the specific items to cover, send it to all attendees and stick to that plan. It is better to share the agenda ahead of time so that all participants can prepare for the call.
2) INVITE THE CORRECT PEOPLE
How many conference calls have you been on where you questioned why you were even there? For most of us, a large proportion of meetings don’t require our time, but senior management invite us along to them anyway, so there’s no easy way to back out of them.
It’s also difficult to hold a productive remote meeting with a large number of participants, due to the difficult balancing everyone’s input and the limitations of technology. That’s why it’s incredibly important to only select participants based on the value they can add to the meeting and whether or not enough time will be set aside for them to provide input on important projects or assignments.
3) CHOOSE A FACILITATOR
For larger meetings, it can be a real challenge to ensure everyone’s voice gets heard during the call. Before you know it, everyone is taking, side conversations are kicking off, and the meeting is over without important team members getting the chance to weigh in on the discussion.
Quieter people can quickly find themselves being talked over which can hurt their confidence and make them feel like their opinions didn’t matter. That’s why it’s important to identify a facilitator whose job is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to talk and will shut down side conversations if they’re distracting from the core purpose of the call.
4) KEEP IT SIMPLE
No matter what software you use for the call, you need to ensure it’s simple and easy to follow for everyone. Along with the agenda, you should send any dial-in numbers, passcodes, links to online platforms (Google+, Zoom etc.), and any other information attendees will need to join the conference call. If this is the first time a call has been arranged using particular software or equipment, it’s always best if you run a few tests with other members of the team to ensure any technical glitches are identified early. Afterall, technical problems are quite common in conference calls and are one of the main contributors to time delays and frustration.
5) ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO MUTE
During conference calls, some people breathe loudly, chew loudly as they use calls as an opportunity to have a snack break, or just hope no one will notice the background noise where they are taking the call. Noise distractions during a call can greatly lower participants concentration levels and frustrate those in attendance. Before the call, you should ask everyone to mute their microphones when they are not speaking as this should help to greatly reduce the amount of noise.
6) ASSIGN A NOTETAKER
Have you assigned someone to be the notetaker?
Any decisions, action items, projects and assignments discussed during the conference call need to be noted down by someone so that they can be sent in a follow-up email. Remind those who participated the main points of the meeting and what needs to take place ahead of the next call. This both increases the effectiveness of the meeting, reinforces the reasons why it took place, and the important contributions of team members. The follow up is of particular importance in remote working relationships as it helps to hammer home that as a team you’re outcome-orientated with performance objects and expectations.
Do you have any other tips based on your own experiences? Let us know by tweeting at us — we’d love to hear your thoughts!