Today’s workplace means people are more geographically dispersed and this greatly compromises our ability to communicate well. There’s also an increased need to collaborate and this can be especially challenging when working in different locations.
The ubiquitous conference call has quickly become the norm when it comes to meetings and makes for unique challenges in for them to be effective. So much of our communication is non-verbal (eye contact, body language, etc.), and we need to take this into account when speaking and listening in conference calls.
In the same ways that emails can be easily misinterpreted, so too can the things that are said and unsaid in conference calls. You can’t simply speak and listen the way you would in face-to-face meetings.
Even with the popularity of videoconferencing tools such as NetMeeting, GoToMeeting, Google+ hangouts and others, the voice-only conference call is still used in most cases.
Determining first whether or not to hold a conference call should take a few things into consideration: 1) What is the purpose of the call? 2) Who needs to be on the call? 3) Will a voice-only call be effective and appropriate given the purpose or should a face-to-face meeting or videoconferencing be employed instead?
Like any meeting, certain ground rules should be considered: 1) start on time (don’t wait for stragglers as it only encourages them), 2) have an agenda and stick to it, 3) keep minutes of the meeting and follow up with action items, 4) end on time or earlier if you’re finished.
Conference calls require additional rules to make them most effective. These include:
- Lead the call effectively. Take charge by explaining who you are and the purpose for the meeting within the first two minutes. Establishing leadership with your voice only means you often need to over communicate and be more careful with your word choice.
- Get everyone involved. Engage everyone from the start by giving them a chance to speak up by introducing themselves. Call on those who are not speaking up during the call to keep everyone engaged.
- Share the floor. Unless you are presenting something, as the leader you should ensure you don’t hog the floor. Give everyone an equal opportunity to share their perspective. If there are many people on the call or new people, have everyone identify themselves when they begin to speak.
- Avoid distractions. Ensure that everyone finds a quiet space for the call and uses a landline if at all possible. Use the mute button strategically. Be careful not to shuffle papers, tap pens, and turn off other electronic devices. Anything that could be considered rude in face-to-face meetings should be avoided during a conference call.
- Don’t multitask. Close email so you’re not tempted to play catch up on other things. If you find yourself doing something other than focusing on who is speaking and the meeting at hand, perhaps you should not be on the call. As a leader, ensure that the meeting remains focused so no one’s time is wasted.
- Provide time for questions. Give a five-minute warning before the end of the call so everyone has an opportunity to question or ask for clarification on anything.
- End the call effectively. Thank them for their participation. Indicate when minutes will be coming as well as any follow up that needs to happen. Provide the time and date for the next meeting as necessary.
Another thing you might consider: some people can be perceived as negative or disagreeable and may want or need to improve this perception among coworkers. To do this during a conference call, consider the use of a mirror during the call. This can greatly help regulate your tone of voice as you will be influenced by how you look when you’re speaking. Most of us will not deliberately look negative or disagreeable when looking into a mirror and this will be reflected in our tone.
Like any meeting, conference calls need to be run well so people stay engaged and the meeting remains an effective use of everyone’s time. Leading a conference call means you need to be hypersensitive because you have so few ways to monitor meeting attendees beyond what you hear them say.
Keep in mind these seven tips for conference calls and you’ll find them to be more effective and a useful method for meeting with others.