And, let’s be honest - everyone has experienced a painstakingly awkward, too long, too all-over-the-map conference call. (The best/worst of which befall a beautiful, Friday afternoon when we’d rather be a million other places.)
The conference call has become standard, operating procedure for business today. And, yet, we don’t talk enough about or train our teams on conference call etiquette and productivity; both of which are skills that can be learned by all. It just takes solid training, good leadership and a short list of guidelines that are easy to make happen.
Here’s our simple, short list of guidelines to host and lead a powerful and productive conference call – as well as a guide to participate in a conference call politely and productively.
LEADING THE CONFERENCE CALL POWERFULLY
As the leader of the conference call, you’re charged with the task of serving as an ACTIVE leader before the call even starts. Set participants up well with a clear, concise agenda and expectations; listen and guide the conversation; note action items and encourage input at the appropriate times.
Special note: You will have to be on your game on this call. Don’t get lazy.
Here are additional strategies to lead the call well:
Utilize a free conference call service. It sounds simple, but a lot of organizations are still using toll lines. Make sure to select a free service that allows you to see WHO is on the call. (A GCS recommendation: FreeConferenceCall.com) When you use a service that shows a caller list, then you don’t need to ask who’s present, saving everyone time, energy, and attention.
Start on time. Respect those who are prompt, and start on time; don’t repeat or start over for late entries. Small talk and “checking in” can be done during the few minutes before the actual start time – not during the first 3-5 minutes of the scheduled call time.
Write a tight agenda; and stick to it. If needed, designate a timekeeper for the call who is responsible for reminding everyone of the meeting’s purpose and duration at the start of the call.
Get to the point. As the call’s leader, you are responsible for making sure all conversations stay on topic. That means no indulging rambles, riffs or tangents – whether they’re on-topic or not. Don’t be afraid to recommend that participants go off-line after this call with side conversations or new, major items. Encourage them to schedule another meeting if necessary.
Keep ‘em honest. When you’re leading a conference call, you’re part leader – part ringmaster. So you’ll need to manage not only the content of the conversation, but also the human behavioral logistics. Make sure everyone identifies themselves before commenting or asking questions; squelch cross-talk among participants who are in the same room; make sure everyone knows to speak up with a “stage voice” when addressing the group. And recommend from the get-go that participants who aren’t speaking should keep their respective lines on mute.
Answer questions at the right time. Designate specific times on the call for questions and comments; a good example – start the call by stating that the last ten minutes are reserved for questions or comments, so that those who have either know that they don’t need to interrupt or interject during the actual call.
Share lessons learned and a recap. End the call with a short list of lessons learned and/or a quick, easy to digest list or recap of any outstanding action items.
End on time. Unless the issues are urgent and important, end the call on time. It’s okay to extend the call when warranted, but make sure it works for everyone on the call. If you have five minutes left on a call that feels like it will run over, address that now – versus five minutes from now.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE ON A CALL POLITELY & PRODUCTIVELY
A lot of times, conference calls can feel brutal because of the number of participants on the call – and their respective behavior. There are things you can do to show up well to these calls.
Identify yourself immediately. When joining the call and before commenting or asking questions, always state your name. As well, always say your name before you announce you must leave the call.
Watch the cross-talk. Oftentimes, we forget we’re on a call, and we’ll address a topic with someone on the call who just so happens to also be in the same room. Be mindful of when you’re cross-talking to someone or acknowledge who you’re speaking to in the room for all participants on the call. Otherwise, they’ll feel as though they’re eavesdropping – on a conversation they’re a part of which is always an odd experience.
Utilize your “outside” voice. When speaking to the group, use your “outside”, playground or stage voice – it’s a little bit of a larger, louder sound, but it reduces the need to repeat yourself.
Use mute. Keep a finger on the mute button and stay on mute when you’re not speaking.
Pay attention. There’s nothing more frustrating than someone who asks a question that was just answered several minutes ago. Pay attention and listen to the conversation at hand.
These recommendations work for us. We say that with the full disclosure that we know each conference call is a unique experience whether that’s because of the topic of conversation or the people involved. If you can start to test out new strategies that engage conference call participants, you just might be able to get more out of a single call – reducing the total number of calls on your calendar. (We’ll let you unmute your line and share your excitement for that one.)
For more insights and advice on communication, productivity or team performance, you can look into our Soft Skills training here: Soft Skills Training.