Even if you’ve been on conference calls before, does that mean you know how to conference call like an expert? Depending on how well prepared you are, conference calls—like any other meeting— can be extremely productive . . . or a tremendous waste of time.
Some attendees prepare well, arrive early, and know enough etiquette to reduce confusion and boost collaboration. Others see the phone—and particularly the mute button—as a way to hide their extracurricular activities (like eating, exercising, emailing, or attending another conference call on the sly) from other conference call attendees.
Is it any wonder managers believe between 25 and 50 percent of time spent in meetings is wasted?
Here are 12 tips intended to help you prepare for—and hold—effective conference call meetings that stay on topic and give all participants a chance to contribute.
1. Pick someone to head up the call.
This honor usually belongs to whoever convenes the meeting or has the most at stake. We’ll assume for the sake of this article that you’re in charge. If that’s the case, then you’re responsible for creating and distributing the agenda, introducing everyone on the call, calling on people for responses, and keeping the meeting on-schedule and on-topic.
2. Create an agenda.
You’ll want a clear game plan. Write up specifically what you want the call to accomplish, what questions you need answered, and what actions need to be assigned. Put this together in advance and send it out to all attendees—even if it’s two minutes before the conference call. A late agenda is better than no agenda.
3. Make sure everyone can get on the call.
Along with the agenda, make sure you send out any dial-in numbers, passcodes, or links your attendees will need to join you in the conference call. Along with this, you’ll want to test out your conference call software and equipment and make sure you’re ready to roll. There’s always the inevitable technical glitches; your job is to eliminate as many of those as you can.
4. Select a quiet background.
When possible, pick a location without a lot of background noise. Be aware that you may be accustomed to certain background sounds that may distract others, like a noisy air conditioner or fan. Avoid calling from your car when possible. If you’re stuck somewhere that’s noisy, be sure to apologize to everyone on the call and use the mute or any chat option as much as possible.
5. Log on early.
If you’re in charge, be the first one in the conference. Even if you’re just an attendee, be on before the conference call is scheduled. Nothing is more disruptive to a call than someone popping in after the meeting’s already started. Don’t be the jerk who forces everyone to rehash what they’d only just discussed (unless you’ve got a great excuse—like a tiger attack, or aliens).
6. Start the meeting on time.
When you’re in charge, you’ve got to be a bully. No giving people more time to show up. Your attendees have other places to be, other meetings to attend, other projects to finish, and they’re depending on you to start and finish the conference call on time. Just repeat this mantra over and over: “No mercy for the late.”
7. Introduce everyone.
As the leader of the call, you’re the host. You introduce everyone, including yourself, at the beginning. Since it’s hard to identify people by voice, ask everyone to preface any comments or questions with their name: “Lindsay here! I was just thinking....”
8. Pay attention.
Don’t multitask unless it has something to do with the meeting, like taking notes or looking things up. That means no eating, exercising, etc. when you’re supposed to be on a conference call. Don’t treat other people’s time like it doesn’t matter.
9. Don’t leave conference call discussions open for comment.
You’ll want to avoid saying anything like: “Any comments?” Inevitably, someone will get talked over or cut off. If you want to solicit feedback, list off the attendees in a sequence, like: “Why don’t we hear from Gordon first, then Zoey, then Ernie.” This way, everyone gets a chance to have their say or to pass.
10. Use the mute.
If you’re not talking, make sure you’re on mute. But remember to unmute before you start talking.
11. Record the meeting, or take notes.
One of the advantages of a conference call is that many phone services allow call recording. You can store and save the audio from conference calls for later use, or if someone missed the meeting. This can also help when reviewing decisions and action items.
12. Follow up afterward.
After a conference call, make sure you follow up. Usually you’ll do this in an email where you outline any decisions, action items, and assignments discussed during the conference call.
How to conference call like a pro comes down to respecting others’ time, keeping the meeting on track, and following up promptly. It also helps to have the right communications tools. Check out GoToConnect's list of Hosted VoIP features, including conferencing bridges and three-way conferences, to see how we can help you make the most of your conference call.