With the economy low and business travel down significantly, it seems that Conference Calls are replacing in person meetings at a rate similar to that of post September 11th.
This may be better for the budget, but not always great for getting business done.
There’s definitely an art and science to running an effective conference call (especially one with multiple parties involved).
I participate in dozens of calls each week and in my observations not everyone running them has effectively mastered this.
Here are 5 quick tips to make the most of everyone’s time:
#1. Make sure the agenda and materials are distributed well ahead of time.
Ideally 24 hours ahead to give everyone a chance to read through them. This is also important in today’s mobile world where many people connect to calls while working remotely (e.g. driving, walking, in cabs). If you send documents in advance, they can download any attachments before leaving their home or office.
#2. Confirm receipt and technical compatibility of all materials sent.
Make sure that everyone got the materials and in a format they can actual see. Send participants an email asking them to “hit reply” confirming they got and could open the documents. There’s nothing worse than starting a call to discuss something (e.g. TV spot, marketing campaign, business plan) and to find out that people didn’t get the documents, or they got them but couldn’t open them.
#3. Do some prep work with one on one calls before the actual conference call.
A few well placed calls with key stakeholders will help people warm up on particular subjects and make sure there is full participation. That way it’s not always the moderator doing all the talking. If you’ve had some brief pre-discussions you can select someone to share their opinions on the call, without putting them on the spot.
#4. Effective moderation is key to the success of the call.
It should be taken seriously and be thought out in advance. The moderator should do a roll call at the beginning of the meeting. Out of respect for the participants on the call should start no more than 5 minutes later after the published call start time. If people come in late, acknowledge them quickly and keep going. Don’t stop each time for “Hi, how are you?” and don’t repeat what’s already been said. Occasionally a quick summary of ground already covered is appropriate. But this should be done in a way that is for the benefit of everyone on the call and not just the late comers. The moderator should also manage the call by calling on individuals for feedback. Don’t just present something and then say “does anyone have any comments?” Dead silence.
#5. Always end on time and include a summary of deadlines and next steps.
To be respectful of people’s diaries and other commitments (and to get people to want to participate in future calls) always end on time. If you find you have not been able to get to all topics then schedule a quick follow up call. Putting the most important topics toward the front, but not first is also a good idea. I like to start off with a recap of progress that’s been made since the last call so everyone can see that the calls are important and do produce results.
If someone would prefer to give comments later of offline, then to minimize the risk of this delaying or derailing the project make sure to give a deadline. “That’s fine Jim, but if I don’t hear back from you by Tuesday close of business, I will assume you are okay going with the group’s decision.”
The moderator should start the call knowing what input/decisions are needed and what are the next steps. This is crucial in making sure calls are effective and that they actually contribute to projects moving forward. This should be stated upfront at the call and repeated at the conclusion of each section of the agenda.
This may seem like pretty basic stuff, but I am always amazed at how many calls don’t follow any sort of agenda and are pretty willy nilly.
When this happens, you can sense that people are not really engaged and you can practically hear the Facebook/web surfing in the background.
That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What are you tips for a successful conference call?