10 Rules for Effective Conference Calls
Written by David Lavenda
1. Keep statements short and ask for frequent feedback
When many people participate in a call, it is easy for minds to “wander.” Keep your statements short. Ask for feedback frequently. Ask direct questions. Don’t ask, “Are there any questions?” but rather, “Dan, what do you think about this phase of the project plan; are we under-budgeted?”
2. Don’t use slides if you can avoid it
Looking at slides laden with text is really, really boring. You can easily kill a discussion with slides. And worse, you can’t even control what people are looking at – most of them are skipping ahead to see how much pain they will have to endure. The smart ones will clock the amount of time spent on each slide, then extrapolate to calculate how long the torture will last.
3. If you must show slides, don’t send them ahead of time.
Don’t send slides ahead of time. You blow all your ammo before you get your partners on the phone. They will probably have gone through the deck before they get on the line – freeing them up to read email, news, or play Solitaire while you drone on and on.
Even if you don’t send slides ahead of time, try not to subject people to slides via WebEx or GoToMeeting either. Rather, use primary sources of data. For sales calls, show real product demos, for project meetings, show project graphs, high-level financial information, etc. If you must show slides, limit them to just a few and make sure that these rock. Slides aren’t a crutch for not being prepared. Rather, they are an aid.
If participants want the slides, send a set that summarizes the call, after the call. This will serve as a meeting protocol. Even if they don’t look at them right away, it represents a good summary for future reference.
4. Send out an agenda ahead of time and stick to it
Whether a sales call, status meeting, product feedback meeting, support call, etc. – make sure you have an agenda so everyone knows the purpose of the call, approximately how long it will last, and what they are expected to prepare before the call. This reduces anxiety for all. When people dial in to an audio call, they don’t have the visual cues that are present with a face to face meeting – the added clarity of the agenda makes the call go smoother.
5. Use video if possible
Since you don’t have visual cues on audio calls, people mute their phones and tune out. Then they do really important things, like play video games, carry on parallel conversations, or just sleep. Providing visual cues through video keep participants engaged. Skype and other VOIP services offer video as a basic service – there is no reason not to take advantage of it.
6. Let the participants know if you are recording the call
Some companies record calls for a variety of reasons (to retain summaries, for training purposes, etc.) – if you are on the call with people from other companies, make sure you let them know you are recording the call…and make sure they are okay with this.
7. Start on time
If you calculated the amount of time wasted waiting for people on conference call in your company, you would be amazed. 6 people waiting 10 minutes, is 1 hour of productivity in the toilet.
8. Make sure the moderator dials in early
9. Don’t dial in from a mobile phone
Don’t dial in from a mobile phone or from a land line in a noisy place. If you must call from a mobile phone, make sure you are in a quiet spot, that you have good cell coverage, and that you have a full battery (or a recharger). There is nothing more annoying than background noise on a call. It’s hard enough to concentrate on a clear line, with many people on the line.
10. Set limits on call duration
This is even more important than setting time limits for face-to-face meetings, since the amount of energy lost in a call exceeds that of meetings. The lack of feedback is a huge energy zapper. Limit calls to reasonable lengths so folks know what to expect.
Do you have any additional tips to add to this list? Or, any funny stories from conference calls gone wrong?