Lead the Pack: How to Conference Call Like a Head Honcho
Conference calls are an efficient and productive way to hold meetings with stakeholders who aren’t in the same location. Like face-to-face meetings, they must be prepared for in advance and conducted expertly to get the most out of the meeting. More than 50 percent of employees note that meetings are a waste of time that could be spent working.
While conference calls can help save time, it only works if you know how to conference call effectively. Otherwise, your call could get out of hand and serve no purpose.
This article gives you tips to handle conference calls like a boss. For our purposes, you’re the one heading the conference call. However, most tips apply whether or not you’re at the helm.
1. Prepare in Advance
Preparation is crucial if you’re going to get the most out of your conference call. You need to get through your agenda as fast and effectively as possible – that’s your goal.
Therefore, ensure that you have informed all participants of the call well in advance. They should all confirm their availability; if they don’t, follow up on them.
At the time you schedule the meeting, create the agenda and share with participants when you inform them about the meeting. Notify participants about any assignments and tell them what’s expected of them at the meeting (call).
If there’s any material they should be conversant with beforehand, send it out in good time. Encourage participants to acknowledge receipt so that you’re working from the same page.
If you haven’t done so, pick the person in charge – often the one with the most at stake. The in-charge is responsible for setting and distributing the agenda, introducing participants to each other and ensuring the meeting stays on track.
Also, remember to test the tools and equipment you’ll be using. If you’re using a service provider, assess the technologies they use, and be sure to find out more about their backup plans.
2. Be Punctual
As the head of the conference call, arrive early. You should have sent out any passcodes, links or dial-in numbers participants need to join the call. You can send them along with the agenda or at the time you send final reminders.
Dial into the call about ten minutes before everyone else. This is the time to test any equipment or software and fix any technical glitches that arise. Touch base with participants separately to ensure they are connected.
Once you have dealt with technical glitches, you can take a minute to relax and get ready to participate. Even if you’re not heading the call, log in before the meeting starts to avoid disrupting everyone else. Or worse, making everyone else wait while you’re brought up to speed.
3. Encourage Participation
Ensure everyone feels comfortable in the call and encourage all voices to be heard. Ask questions to show participants that you value their input.
Since you’re managing the call, take note of any voices you haven’t heard in a while. You can note down initials of speakers as they talk to help you.
Unlike face-to-face meetings, maintaining attention is harder on a conference call. If a person has been quiet too long, they can tune out of the discussion. Worse, the call could have dropped without your knowledge.
For best results, keep your numbers low. If there are too many participants, you can lose track of who says what and how to manage the meeting effectively.
You can use conference call tools to maintain engagement: providers usually have polls, survey or Q&A tools. These can help you engage those who are not talking at the moment. Go through the different codes needed to activate various tools.
4. Pick a Quiet Location
Your location is critical, especially if you’re on a video conference call. Your background should not be distracting to other participants. Ensure your connection is stable so that everyone can hear you well.
Choose a quiet conference room to avoid cross-talk from other workstations. This is essential if you’re on speakerphone or using a microphone. People moving around will distract you as well, and someone may be tempted to talk to you, interrupting your meeting.
Beware of any electronic devices that can cause interference and affect the quality of the call. Turn down your air conditioner or fan; you may be used to the buzz, but other participants will find it distracting or annoying. If you can’t get out of a bad environment, apologize at the beginning of the call.
5. Don’t Veer from the Agenda
The primary reason that workers consider meetings a time-wasting affair is the tendency to veer from the topic of discussion. As the head of the call, try to ensure everyone stays within the agenda. You can suggest that important but unrelated business be discussed at the end of the call.
If you’re known to handle your calls effectively, participants won’t shy away from setting meetings with your team. Try to stay within the time limit you had set, except for special circumstances. In this case, apologize and explain why the delay happened.
Remember that you need to keep conference calls even shorter than face-to-face meetings because people get bored faster.
6. Direct All Contributions
Avoid opening the floor for comments on a conference call. Unlike a face-to-face meeting where everyone engages on the same level, it’s easy for participants to cut off or talk over each other.
Instead of saying, “Any comment?”, pick a person’s name and ask for their opinion directly. Then go round until all participants have said something. Alternatively, you can spool them at the start: “Let’s hear from Lisa, then Paul and finally George.”
Also, encourage participants to use the mute button when they are not talking and do the same. Because you’re leading the meeting, you will probably not put yourself on mute unless a participant will speak for long.
Muting helps to prevent interruptions, especially if participants aren’t in a quiet environment.
How to Conference Call – Conclusion
It’s not essential to the actual call, but recording the conversation or taking notes can help you keep a record of who said what. If possible, you can have a stenographer listening in and making notes. Many conference call software suites also have call recording functionality.
At the end of the call, rehash the important decisions or points from the meeting. Thank everyone for being available and set the next date of meeting where applicable.
Now, you know how to conference call like a true leader. Don’t forget to share this post with your colleagues and team members.