How you can run more Effective Conference Calls

Is your organisation suffering from conference call fatigue and frustration? More and more organisations are trying to cut travel expenses and save time by conducting more meetings and business with conference calls – only to find that their conference calls are chaotic and counter- productive.

Conference calls can be hard to run and even harder to stay engaged in if you are a participant. The calls lack the visual contact to help people feel connected (and to make sure people are paying attention!)

talkforce is getting cries for help from organisations needing their conference calls to be more productive and less unpopular. Here are some of our top tips for making your conference calls more effective and engaging.

For more Effective Conference calls, remember The 8 E's.

The E's overlap and reinforce each other are an easy-to-remember check list: Extra Effort, Expectations, Eliminate Distractions, Equipment, Establish Identity, Engage and be Engaged, Entries and Exits.

1. Extra Effort

Your conference calls will be more effective if you take extra effort in planning and preparing for your conference call. In a normal face-to-face meeting where you can see each other, you have the benefit of visual and non-verbal communication. You can see who is talking, who is paying attention, who looks like they want to say something, and who needs to be encouraged to contribute pay more attention.

In a conference call, your voice has to do all the work. The phone has limited frequencies than hearing a voice in the same room (it cuts off the highs and lows). Voices can sound flatter, more dull and harder to understand. If you are speaking, you need to make an extra effort sound more animated, articulate your words more precisely. As a participant you need to work harder to focus and stay engaged.

2. Establish Expectations

It's vital to let all conference call participants know what is expected from them. Send an Agenda and any supporting documents before the conference call with the expectation that participants familiarise themselves with the material.

This leads to our next tip - make sure participants have a list of expected Etiquette during the conference call.

3. Etiquette

You can create and modify your own list of Conference Call Etiquette to suit your organisation: Common Etiquette guidelines can include

  • Be on time
  • Come prepared
  • One speaker at a time
  • No side conversations while others are speaking
  • Say your name before speaking (see also Establish Identity)
  • Pay attention and stay engaged (even if other people can't see you!)
  • Silence your mobile phones. Don't be tempted by your computer or e-mail (See Eliminate Distractions)

4. Eliminate Distractions

Conference Calls are hard enough without having distractions. Avoid interruptions and distractions by giving the call your full attention – don't have your e-mail open, silence your mobile phone.

Eliminate background noise. Choose a quiet location. Every bit of background noise from different phones being used adds to the distraction and makes it harder for people to hear what's going on. If it gets too hard, people just tune out. Use the mute function to eliminate noise from your background when you are just listening. "Unmute" when you want to speak. This leads to our next point to remember – Learn how to use your Equipment.

5. Equipment

Get familiar with your equipment. Test it before an important conference call if you haven't used it before. Learn how to mute. Don't press the wrong button and put people on hold and have the annoying background music interrupt the call. Don't be too far away from the microphone when you are speaking and you are on speaker phone.

Use a land line if available as mobiles and even cordless phones can cause extra noise.

6. Establish Identity

Because people can't see who is speaking, always establish identity when you speak. Say your name at the beginning when you first speak and when you make later contributions.

In a face-to-face meeting, you can see who agrees by seeing the nods or asking for a show of hands. On a conference call it may be necessary to verbally show agreement and, of course, establish who is agreeing and who isn't.

7. Engage and be engaged

The host of the conference call needs to inject appropriate energy and enthusiasm to avoid a monotone delivery that puts people to sleep. Listening to the same voice for too long can get boring so add a variety of voices – encourage others to speak and contribute. For participants not “in the room” if there are some people together speaking with others dialing-in remotely, it's easy to feel disconnected. The host should ask questions and invite comments to keep everyone involved and engaged. Use people's names when asking questions or inviting comments. Say their name first before the question or invitation to comment. This can avoid catching people off guard. Maybe even give some warning that you will soon be asking a particular question or inviting comment on an issue.

The host should note of who is contributing and who is being quiet. Don't forget remote callers just because you can't see them.

Summarise along the way and give opportunities for people to contribute before moving along to the next item on the agenda.

For participants, it's easier to stay engaged if you Eliminate Distractions and put in Extra Effort to stay focussed for the conference call.

8. Entries and Exits

Your conference call will be more effective when you pay special attention to how you start and finish – have a strong Entry and a purposeful Exit.

If you are the host, we recommend that you "get in the zone" before the conference call, remind yourself of the Agenda and the purpose of the conference call and even practise out loud the introduction of the call so they you a strong Entry.

A purposeful Exit is vital too. We recommend that the host signal that the conference is about to wrap up, then spend the last five minutes: summarising key points, what's been achieved, next steps, assigning actions – Who is to do What by When.

Other tips

Time and Timing:

  • The shorter the conference call, the more effective it can be. People can stay more focussed if they know it is for a shorter time. 30-40 minutes of concentrated effort can be better than an hour-long call.
  • In the Agenda, designate appropriate times for different items
  • Designate a person to keep track the time and interject when it's time to move on to the next item.
  • Start on time and finish on time
  • Consider starting conference calls at 5 or 10 minutes past the hour. People are often late if they are coming from other commitments that often finish on the hour.

How to Stay on track:

It's easy for conference calls to stray off track and lose focus. It can help to have a designated person to interject to keep matters on track. It can be a simple expression like "back on track" or an agreed code word (the funnier the better) to pull people back to business in a light-hearted way.

In our workshops, participants get more than tips and techniques – they get a valuable opportunity to apply the workshop tips and techniques in a realistic exercise. We record a conference call where participants have to work without seeing each other. Participants then get valuable constructive feedback from our facilitator and their fellow participants.

We customise and tailor to your specific requirements. For more information please contact us