How to conduct an effective conference call

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If your only option for bringing your team together for a meeting is via the telephone, here are some guidelines to maximize on your productivity.

Circulate an agenda prior to the call. This gives participants an opportunity to collect their thoughts or research to contribute to the call. Starting a call without a published agenda communicates lack of organization and preparation on your part.

If you announce the upcoming conference call via email, do your participants a favor and include the date, time (with appropriate time zone), subject and call-in number in the email subject line. With the amount of emails flooding people’s inbox these days putting the information in the subject line makes for a quick an easy reference and reminder for your participants.

Conduct a roll call at the beginning of the call if your numbers are relatively small. This accomplishes a couple of things: It let’s you and all the other attendees know who is participating and is also the first step to keep people engaged in the call.

Avoid long dissertations. It’s hard enough for people to listen to long speeches when attending a lecture in person but when you have to listen through the receiver on a phone with nothing to look at it can be quite a challenge. Instead, break it up with other people giving parts of the presentation or testimonials involving people who have experienced success or challenges with the topic.

Keep your team engaged. If you are the call leader there is one conference call tool that is both your friend and enemy: the mute button. Participants should use the mute button when they are not talking to reduce the ambient noise on the call. But the longer the mute button is on the more likely they have become disengaged in the conference. If participants know the leader will drone on for extended periods of time, they will instant message others on the call, take breaks, engage in conversations at their location, work on their computers and only half tune it to know when the call is done or it is their turn to speak.

Don’t “report around the call.” If you have five or more participants and you ask each one of them to report in order, you’ve just told them when they are on and when they can check out. Instead, have them report prior to the call with an email and select one or two to share best practices. Most of the time there is a lot of redundancies when everybody reports in order.

Keep your participants on their toes. Ask for input, feedback or ask key questions. You can even call on people specifically as long as you are not putting people on the spot to embarrass them.

Try to envision your team sitting around a conference table engaged in a discussion. Introduce topics that invite ideas or opinions and people will be more likely to engage in the conversation. Take time on the call to brainstorm or solve problems. Expecting people to just sit and listen to the phone for an hour with no participation is cruel and unusual punishment.

Follow these guidelines and there will be far less pain and suffering felt when you announce the next scheduled conference call.

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