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17 Tips for Leading Effective Conference Calls

People in all sorts of roles are called upon to conduct conference calls at one time or another. Whether you work in an office setting and need a supplemental phone call in place of a face to face meeting or you work in a distributed or remote work environment where conference calls are the norm, conducting them effectively is essential for team collaboration and decision making.

There are plenty of blog posts about best practices for leading meetings and conference calls. These are the oft spoken items that should be quite familiar to anyone who has conducted even a cursory Google search on the topic:

  • Create and share the meeting agenda in advance of the call that includes:
    • why you are meeting
    • who is attending the meeting
    • when is the meeting
    • where is the meeting 
  • Make sure the right people are on the call.
  • Keep the call concise and on point and moving along.
  • Have a designated note taker.
  • Start and end on time.

Since Mediacurrent is a distributed company, conference calls, GoToMeetings, or Google Hangouts are the norm for our remote team members. I sent a survey asking them to describe the most helpful tips for increasing the effectiveness of conference calls between clients and a distributed workforce. Here is a summary of their responses:

Before the call

  • If calling from something other than a phone such as a computer, test the equipment beforehand to verify that it is working as expected. Technical difficulties during the call can throw off the rhythm of the conversation and waste everyone's time.
  • Before starting the call, always make sure you understand what buttons, both physical and on the computer, control whether you are muted.
  • Don't use a voice-only conference call when having a video call would make presenting your agenda or sharing ideas much easier. 

Starting the call

  • Join the call at least a minute or two before the scheduled meeting time.
  • Share quick story about the weekend or question that you know will start conversation while waiting on everyone to join. That way, you're not all silently sitting there and it starts building connection.
  • Wrap up the small talk quickly as soon as everyone has joined. 
  • Don’t start unless the key people are there so you don’t have to repeat things.
  • Begin with a summary of the agenda and purpose of the meeting.
  • When appropriate, take time for everyone to make introductions being clear about position and role. Understanding the individuals that the group is comprised of will shape the tone of the call.
  • Always introduce yourself when you join the call. Some people get connected and stay quiet. If the person joining the call does not introduce him/herself, the person conducting the meeting should ask "who just joined the call?". This ensures everyone is aware about who else is in the call.

Conducting the call

  • Address someone by name if you want them to respond so there aren't awkward pauses if someone isn't paying attention or aren't sure who needs to answer something.
  • Silently count for 3 seconds before switching topics.
  • Provide regular time checks so everyone knows when time is getting close.
  • When not speaking, attendees should mute their phone/mic, especially if they are in a place where background noise is present or possible. It can be very distracting to suddenly get an earful of background noise when trying to speak.
  • Be ready to defer brainstorming and one to one conversations for another call with fewer people in attendance. Effective meetings require advance preparation, and everyone should not be expected to answer any question on the spot.

Ending the call

  • Provide a meeting recap at the end of the call.
  • Confirm that everyone is in agreement with next steps, responsibilities, and deadlines.
  • Silently count 5 seconds when closing the call.

I hope these tips increase the effectiveness of your next conference call. Of course, you can not do them and have your call look something like what happens in this video:

Share your favorite tips in the comments.

Additional Resources

Establishing a Remote Workflow | Mediacurrent Blog Post
A Discovery Phase: Starting Drupal Web Project off RIght | Mediacurrent Blog Post

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