I once worked for a manager that was fond of conference calls with our spread-out team. Poor fellow was not adept at leading these confused gatherings, however, so when he was out of earshot we called them chaos calls, a far more fitting description. In these 7 tips we offer sound advice for conducting a constructive phone conference. When handled well, these calls are inexpensive, can be very productive and produce tremendous time savings.
1. Be prepared: Treat a phone conference like any other meeting. Get the agenda out via email well ahead of time, and be sure to include the call-in number and code. List expected attendees. Send out a reminder 24 hours ahead of the call and again 90 minutes ahead of the call. Be sure that you work the time zone chart to make sure remote participants are given the correct time. Be ready to go at the appointed hour and don’t wait for stragglers. Get started without them or everyone else will feel disrespected and that their time is being waste.
2. Start the meeting with a greeting and roll call: This way everyone feels welcomed and knows exactly who is part of the meeting. Ask each participant to introduce themselves. This is especially important when participants have not met or don’t know each other well. It is also good to ask each person to state their name at the beginning of each comment, at least until it is clear that every person is distinguishable.
3. Go over the basic rules and etiquette: Don’t belabor these things, but do remind people to use their mute button if the kids start screaming in the background or if an emergency vehicle goes blaring by. Remind them to unmute the phone before they speak so they won’t think they are being ignored. Quick, basic reminders, short and sweet. You might prefer to send a written list of these reminders with the agenda to save conference time.
4. Have a leader: Pulling a group of people together for an open-ended chat, without a clear leader or direction, is hard enough in person. With just voice and no visual clues, chaos happens quickly, and then nothing happens slowly. If you’re role is to lead the phone conference then be a bit more assertive than you would be in a face to face meeting. It maintains control and flow. Your conferees will appreciate that.
5. Keep your list of the group in front of you: As each participant speaks put a check by their name. In person, it is easier to keep track of who has and who has not been active in the meeting. On a phone conference it is easy to overlook the quiet ones. If you know they probably have something worthwhile to contribute make a note of asking them. Say, I know you’ve got a good handle on this subject. Can you add anything to what has been said? If you have the opposite problem and everyone wants to jump in at once, moderate with clarity. Hear Miguel and then Michelle, followed by Michael, okay? Then state your name before you speak, a rule eliminates most of the random jumping in, however, so maintaining that protocol throughout the conference might work better for your group.
6. Avoid distracting noises: In a meeting room with folks around a table, Bob’s pencil tapping at the far end of the room might not bother you. In a conference call Bob’s pencil tapping, coin jingling, paper shuffling, noisemaking as he shifts in his leather chair, and even his yawns are delivered directly to your ear piece or speaker. Distracting turns to maddening very quickly. If someone is doing any of these things find a humor-tinged but respectful way to remind everyone how sounds are magnified through the phone. The good news is that the phone conference format gives the offender a bit of anonymity which will reduce awkwardness. It also helps if everyone is on a wired line and in a quiet place, not having coffee at the local cafe.
7. Have a formal end to the meeting: End on time, thank everyone for participating, and remind them of any upcoming phone conferences on the schedule. Also let them know that a summary of the meeting will be on emailed to them by a specific time, so they know to look for it. End with another thank you and a warm good-bye for now.
If you keep in mind that you are having a meeting that happens to be phone based, you’ll be in good shape. Stick to the agenda, covering first the crucial topics that must be addressed that day. Make it a good experience for everyone and with time the convenient, high value, low cost telephone conference might become a productive mainstay of the way work gets done in your company or organization.