Whether you’re in an office or working remotely, conference calls will be a part of your business at some point. Conference calls can sometimes be more effective and productive than emails or other types of meetings. But, they can also easily become chaotic and unproductive. Here are a few useful conference call tips for better meetings:
1. Create an Agenda for the Call
An agenda can help keep everyone on track regardless of the type of meeting. The same thing is true for a conference call. Creating an agenda before the call and making sure all attendees have it can help you set expectations for the call and set a good foundation for a successful meeting. You can adjust the agenda depending on the other people who will be on the call and the goal of the call.
If you know there will be a lot of people, you can set time frames for items, some ground rules for discussions and general etiquette guidelines for the call, identify the person who will lead on each item, schedule time at the end for additional comments or questions, etc. This customizes the agenda to the style of the conference call and the people who will be on it and can help it be more effective for everyone.
2. Send Out Call Information and Clear Instructions
When you send out the agenda for the call, make sure you include all the necessary information for the call as well. It also doesn’t hurt to include clear instructions on how to access the call. This is particularly helpful when your call includes a new tool for online meetings, multiple attendees, or someone you don’t call regularly.
3. Consider Your Environment
Another one of the useful conference call tips is to consider your environment. Before you log or dial into a conference call, take a moment to think about your environment. Make sure you are in a relatively quiet area where you will be able to have some privacy, talk freely, and not have a lot of background noise.
Check Your Background if You’re Using Video
If you’re using video for your calls, make sure you check your background and your screenname before joining the call. Remember that other people will be able to see what’s behind you on a video call.
Make sure you have good lighting and that whatever behind you is professional and appropriate. Some tools, like Zoom, allow you to upload or create your own background, which can be useful. And, don’t forget that people can see you while you’re on the call, so keep your appearance and conduct professional as well.
4. Introduce Yourself
When you join a call, it’s important to announce your presence and introduce yourself. Everyone on the call should be aware of who else is on it at any time. If you’re late to the call, don’t barge in announcing yourself.
Instead, wait for a break in the conversation, introduce yourself, apologize for being late, and let the call keep moving. This also means sparing the other callers any excuses or explanations for why you were late; it’s not important at that moment and serves only to disrupt the call further.
5. Start the Call on Time
One of the most common ways that conference calls become unproductive is when they start late or are constantly being interrupted by latecomers who then need to be filled in on what has already been covered.
Encouraging people to call in a certain time before the meeting start time can help keep this to a minimum. You can also start to curb this by not circling back and starting the call over. Instead, ask that someone else catch late arrivals up on what they missed after the call so you don’t have to waste everyone’s time reviewing or encourage the behavior.
If you’re the host of the call, show up early to make sure everything is working as intended and so you are there to welcome others as they call in. This will allow you to keep track of who is on the call and will let you know that you’re not missing any key people when you start the meeting.
6. Practice Active Listening
On conference calls, some people talk a lot while others don’t talk at all. Conversations can flow well, but they can also go off the rails quickly. On the phone, you’re missing other cues that someone is about to speak, so it can be easy to end up interrupting or talking over someone.
It’s important to practice active listening on conference calls and not just wait to talk. If you’re waiting to talk, you’re not listening to what else is going on and you’re also more likely to steamroll someone else.
If you do end up interrupting someone, a quick apology and an encouragement for them to continue is usually sufficient to keep the conversation flowing. If you notice someone else was interrupted or talked over, you can steer the conversation back to them by asking them what they were about to say or noting that they weren’t finished.
7. Mute Yourself When You’re Not Speaking
If you’re not speaking, it’s generally good etiquette to mute yourself. Not only does this reduce overall noise distractions on the call, but it might also save you from some potentially embarrassing moments. This is particularly true for someone who is working in a noisy environment or working from home with pets, children, or other people in the house.
8. State Your Name Before Speaking
If there are a lot of attendees on the call, especially people who may not be familiar with each other, voices can tend to blend in and become indistinguishable. In this case, it’s a good idea to state your name before you start talking so everyone else can place who is speaking.
9. Keep Things Concise
A conference call is a meeting. So, whoever is on the call is giving up their time to be on it. If you’re speaking, making a comment, asking a question, etc., make sure you are staying aware of other people’s time and keeping things concise. This is one of the most useful conference call tips for keeping things focused and moving forward.
If it’s not something that applies to everyone, keep it to yourself and make a note to bring it up to the relevant person at another time. If you were busy, you wouldn’t want someone wasting your time unnecessarily in a meeting, so don’t do it to others on a conference call.
The same concept applies to the call overall. You don’t have to stretch things out unnecessarily just to meet a specific time frame. If you’re able to get through what you need to in less time than you have scheduled, end the meeting and let people continue their day.
And, if the call isn’t wrapping up as you get closer to the time allotted for it, find a good stopping place and tackle the remaining items at another time. If the items are urgent and you must cover them in that meeting, make sure you let participants know, verify they have that time available, and provide an accurate estimate for how much longer it will take. Then, move through things as quickly as possible, so everyone has what they need and can move on with their day.
10. Ask for Comments and Thoughts
Sometimes, people stay quiet on conference calls unless they are asked something or spoken to directly. If you are the host of the call or you are leading a section of the agenda, make sure you ask for comments and thoughts when needed. You can address specific people to help avoid interruptions or everyone talking at once. Otherwise, you may not get the feedback or information that you need.
11. Repeat Important Points or Contributions
If you are the host or the lead at some point in the call, take some time to repeat important points or contributions made by others. Not only does this give you the chance to make sure everyone heard it, but it also allows you to guide the conversation from that point to keep things focused on the goal of the meeting.
12. Use the Tools Available to Your Advantage
If you’re using an online tool for your meeting and not just a standard phone, then you probably have some extra features available to you. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them if they will help your call be more effective.
Whether it’s a screenshare function, video, chat, or something else, familiarize yourself with what’s available if you’re hosting a call and make use of what makes sense for the meeting.
Something with a visible dashboard often gives you options to mute specific participants, apply a global mute function, manage callers as needed, etc. All of these can help you keep the call focused, effective, and productive.
13. Keep Notes and Record the Call
More useful conference call tips include keeping notes and recording the call. If you are a participant on a conference call, writing notes is a great way to stay focused and also have a record of important points you need to know. As a host, writing down important contributions or questions from others can keep you engaged and help you follow up with them later.
Also, it’s a good idea to record the call, with participants’ permission. This is particularly useful for instructional meetings, how-tos, webinars, etc. You can then send the recording to participants after the call along with a summary of the most important takeaways.
14. Follow Up After the Call
One of the best conference call tips for better meetings is to follow up after the call. A meeting can feel productive. But, if nothing is done once it’s over and no action items were identified, it often wasn’t a productive meeting. Following up with individual participants after the call can help you clarify questions on items specific to them, address action items that involve them, and more.
These are just a few useful conference call tips for better meetings. What works best for you will depend on whether you are the host, the goal of the call or meeting, and the people that are on it. Hopefully, with the right mix of tips, you can help make these meetings more effective, productive, and useful for all involved.