1.11.11 – Leading a (Better) Conference Call, Part 1

We’ve all been there.  Another conference call ends and you realize you’ve wasted another 60 minutes of your life.   And you’ll never get it back.  Why does it have to be so painful?

 With all the collaborative software, desktop sharing applications, and video conferencing tools available, I still spend the majority of my time on the old fashion conference call.  All organizations leverage conference calls because it is still the easiest and cheapest way for virtual team members to communicate.

Here are a few tips to help you lead your next call (note that I am specifically referring to conference calls and will address video conferencing in a future post):

  1.  Prepare.  The same rules for running a face to face meeting apply to conference calls.  In fact, more preparation is probably needed just to ensure everyone stays engaged.  Even if you are holding a brainstorming meeting, don’t call in empty handed. 
  2. Manage the attendee list.  How many people will be on the call?  Do you need all of them?  Will everyone be able to interact?  I have been in meetings with approximately 30 – 50 people on the call and often wonder if there is a better way for mass communication or informational sharing sessions.  Some exceptions exist, such as Q&A sessions to allow anyone to ask questions, but I generally prefer meetings with a small enough group that will allow everyone to participate. 
  3. Go beyond the agenda; establish goals and objectives.  For many meetings it is common to send out the agenda beforehand.  I have seen many meeting organizers even include the time allotted for each agenda item.  This is good practice but I’ve been in far too many meetings where the agenda was not followed.  I’m not implying that you should abandon this practice but, in my opinion, goals and objectives are more important.  Before everyone adjourns and gets on the next call, what are the top 3 things you must decide? 
  4. Start on time.  This is not about punctuality, this is about productivity.  It’s amazing how few conference calls actually start close to the meeting time.  Forget right on time. I’m talking within 5 minutes of the planned start time.  What happens when you don’t start a conference call time on time?  Participants hit the mute button and begin multitasking.  You’ve already lost them before the meeting has begun.  They may briefly come off mute to introduce themselves but they are likely back in their inbox. 
  5. Master Conference Call technology.  Nothing is more annoying than the audio tones or beeping noises that notify you when someone joins or drops from the call.  (Dave Grady does a hilarious rendition of this – you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbJAJEtNUX0).   All conference call applications should have a way of controlling this.  Figure it out before you have your next call to avoid the distractions.

 Now that you started the call, I’ll provide a few tips next week on running the call in Part 2.

-Jason

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