5 ways to get the most out of your next conference call

Many people are wary of conference calls, put off by preconceptions of an awkward, less productive experience than a face to face meeting would be. However, following these 5 tips for conference calling can help ensure your next teleconference runs smoothly, achieves its aim and avoids time being wasted.

1. Location

Before the conference call even begins, you should think carefully about where you are. Aim for a place with minimal background noise, and where you feel comfortable to talk freely. Minimise your distractions and make yourself comfortable so the conference call gets your full attention. Bustling offices or houses filled with children are not ideal, so try to find yourself some peace for the call’s duration.

2. Participation

Once the conference call has commenced, try to get all the participants to introduce themselves one by one. This way, everybody has spoken and so gotten over any potential nerves about piping up. Furthermore, it helps remove confusion over who has said what, particularly as people’s telephone voices can sound very different to their voices face to face, and you may be holding conference calls where not all participants know each other. During the main part of the meeting, you should try to check in with all participants regularly, particularly if you notice somebody has contributed very little. Ensure you pause before moving on from a topic, and give a clear opportunity for people to add further ideas or ask questions.

3. Stay on topic

If you are hosting a conference call, try to think of yourself as the conductor of an orchestra or manager of a sports team – you have to guide participants through different areas efficiently, making sure sufficient, but not too much, time is spent on each topic. Aim to make participants aware of the meeting’s agenda beforehand, so they are properly prepared and aware of what to expect. People may become frustrated and distracted if time is being wasted on conversation not pertinent to the matter at hand, or perhaps even related to the work. Be friendly but firm, and while a comfortable environment is important, discussion of the plans for the evening or a new café opening are not a sensible use of time. Try to make a plan for how long to spend on each issue, and stick to it as closely as possible – although you should allow some flexibility if you find some issues are relatively easily resolved, and others require more attention and discussion. Do try to finish as closely to the time planned as possible, as people may become distracted and irritable, or even have to leave the call altogether.

4. Keep notes

As in any meeting, simply sitting there is usually not enough. It is a fact we all came to acknowledge some time around the latter years of our education that, no matter how much you convince yourself, you will not remember everything you hear. You need to write things down. This ensures you keep a record of brilliant ideas, important problems to solve and topics for the next meeting which you may not have had a chance to address in full this time around. This can also be a useful way of ensure you stick to the topics at hand: if you find yourself writing something down and wondering how you came to be discussing this, you will probably realise you have lost some control over the meeting. Taking notes becomes much easier if you record the conference call, a function many conference call services provide, some even for free. This can be extremely useful to go over after the call has ended, and possibly refer to during the next meeting.

5. Follow up

It can be really useful to send participants an email summarising the meeting, answering any questions that weren’t properly addressed and checking whether they may have anything else they would like to add or ask. This can also be a good opportunity to create, or confirm, plans for your next meeting, and adds a sense of finality, resolution and care being taken of participants.

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