Ten Tips to Make Conference Calls More Productive

Many people are frustrated by the amount of time that they have to spend in conference calls that are inefficient and unproductive. Avoiding these calls is one answer, but then you are out of the loop both for information and decision making. A much better strategy is to apply best practices and systematic preparation to make them faster, leaner, more effective. You can do this even if you are just participating, but the chair can contribute the most. Here's how:

FOR EVERYONE

1. CALL IN EARLY. One reason is that if everyone calls in before the scheduled time you can start on time, but even if the others come in later it makes it much easier for you to introduce yourself and get to know the others before the work starts. This is especially important if you are new to the group and don't know anyone yet.

2. PREPARE YOUR GOALS. Why are you on the call? What would you like to achieve? It is a good idea to think about what your goals are before the call starts. If you have a stake in the subject this is critically important; in all cases it means your time is less likely to be wasted.

3. MINIMIZE BACKGROUND NOISE. Find the quietest place you can, avoiding noisy equipment, open windows or anything else that can annoy other users. Be especially careful not to leave your mobile phone close to the phone because it can cause interference even in standby mode. Also don't have the microphone so close that you make breathing noises throughput the call.

4. INTRODUCE YOURSELF. Don't count on people recognizing your voice. The first time you speak you should say your name, and if you are coming back in after a long silence it helps to say your name again.

5. RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO MULTITASK. It is very tempting to write a proposal, take a call on another line, practice card tricks or whatever, but I do not recommend it. Concentrate and contribute to make the outcome of the meeting useful and relevant.

FOR CHAIRS

6. OPEN THE CONFERENCE EARLY. Start the conference call 10 minutes before the scheduled time to make sure the system works and to make it easier to get the discussion going as quickly as possible.

7. MANAGE THE DISCUSSION: Keep the discussion focused on the agenda items, requesting that off-topic conversations be discussed elsewhere. Watch the time, too, so that you can get through all the agenda items without going over time.

8. ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION. Sometimes one or two people can dominate the conversation. You will get better results if you encourage everyone to participate, asking quiet peolpe what they think if they don't

9. DRIVE CONSENSUS, DECISIONS. After letting everyone speak you should feed back to the others what you think is the consensus position. If there is no consensus you can consider a vote or refer the question to a higher authority.

10. ALWAYS END OF TIME. People often have another call immediately after yours so it is very important to end at the scheduled time. Manage the discussion effectively and there is no need to overrun.

All business activities are strongly conditioned by culture so when the participants in a conference call are from different countries you will need to adapt the basic process. For example, in some cultures you have to be very careful when people of different levels are on the call because junior people will not speak when their boss is listening. Some of these differences are explained in Three Non-Obvious Issues in Multicultural Meetings. 

These tips are taken from Effective Communications for Marketing Professionals,  a two-day workshop that provides all the basics of communication theory and practice for marketing professionals. Contact conseil@andrewhennigan.com for details.

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