Conference Calls- Do Them Right or Not at All

Posted on January 25, 2012.

Conference calls are the Rodney Dangerfield of meetings.  They get no respect. Let’s face it, meetings are bad enough, but without the ability to socialize a little, they can turn into nothing more than background music.  Since more and more people are working remotely or from home, the conference call is quickly becoming the preferred method for conducting a meeting.  To avoid having your attendees put you on mute and play words with friends, make sure you…..

  • Not only create an agenda, but send it out beforehand.  Why is this so hard?  Yet I bet at least half of the conference calls you either set up or attend did not have an agenda, and certainly not one sent ahead of time. Yes, some conference calls are established with just a few people to discuss one issue, but if you are inviting your staff, or people across functional areas, respect them enough to send out an agenda at least a day in advance. If it’s important enough for them to be on the call, it’s important enough for you to set expectations.
  • Set the time parameter and stick to it. There is nothing more annoying and frustrating than to be on call that was suppose to last one hour and you’re 75 minutes in and have accomplished little to nothing.  Of course, it probably ran over because there was no agenda, but even if you have one, stick to the time limit and if you aren’t finished, set up another call.  After the allocated time, you’ve lost people anyway.
  •  Start them on time and keep them short. If you set up the call for 9:00 am, give yourself no more than 5 minutes and start the meeting.. Make sure you do a roll call first by reading out names and not asking,  “who’s on the line?” If people are late, don’t stop to catch them up.   If they have a good reason, they will contact you later with an explanation and you can fill them in. Your rule of thumb should be the shorter the call the better. It’s hard enough to stay focused looking at just a phone of computer, so anything longer than an hour is risking focus.
  • Prepare all the participants ahead of time. If other people are expected to speak, make sure they know exactly what’s required, including how much time they will have. If you have a visual aid, make sure every participant has it ahead of time or has the technology to access it during the meeting. If you’reusing technology like “Go-To-Meeting”, test it ahead of time.
  • Build in time for Q & A.  There’s nothing more frustrating than to be on a conference call and have the floor open up for questions 59 minutes into a 60-minute call.  People will be reluctant to share their concerns or questions for fear of holding up others.  Create a parking lot of issues that couldn’t be addressed. Just because you don’t have a flip chart, doesn’t mean you don’t need to follow up.

If you can’t follow the tips above you should rethink have the call at all.  It’s hard to get people’s attention when they have multiple distractions, but if expectations aren’t established and adhered to, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.  For more tips on meetings, see Five Ways to More Effective Meetings.