Conference calls are more or less a necessary evil in the business world. No one truly enjoys being on a call, but there are things you can do that will make the call or meeting less painful. From using an agenda for more efficient meetings to encouraging questions for increased retention and maintaining a standard of courtesy, these five tricks will help you have more effective conference calls.
1. Use an Agenda
An unplanned meeting is about as ineffective as a hose without water. Unorganized meetings quickly spiral into chaos, and the next thing you know, a political debate is raging in one corner while in the other, three of the attendees are snoring. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s close enough to the truth. Unorganized meetings are simply ineffective and distracting.
An agenda is a simple tool that you can use to plan for better meetings and help get everyone on the same page. A simple agenda can take an unorganized meeting and give it direction. Acting as your blueprint, the agenda will let attendees know where and when the call will take place, what will be discussed, how long the meeting will last, and who’s going to attend.
These details are crucial for effective meetings, as they provide a unifying point for everyone to fall back to when the meeting begins to spiral. You can also set time limits for topics or speakers on your agenda, so anyone that’s presenting knows how much time they have to make their point. If you wouldn’t construct a skyscraper without a blueprint, you shouldn’t run a meeting without an agenda.
2. Keep Calls Under an Hour
If you’ve ever attended a meeting or conference call that stretched well beyond the one-hour mark, you probably remember how emotionally drained you felt afterward. Let’s be honest; meetings that are longer than an hour get boring fast and can cause those eyelids to begin to feel heavier than usual. The fact is, the most effective meetings are under one hour and closer to the 30-45-minute mark.
In order to keep your calls under that crucial one-hour mark, you’ll need to do a few things. For starters, use an agenda and share the agenda with the callers a few days prior to the call actually taking place. This will give everyone ample time to prepare or ask questions/offer suggestions. Once that’s out of the way, you’ll want to keep track of everyone’s speaking time during the call. Be sure the main points are addressed first, and save any reinforcing or less important points for another time or even a short email after the call. Sometimes, it’s better to just say something over an email than to take 45 minutes of everyone’s time to say it.
3. Understand the Material
One of the most frustrating things during a meeting is a host that doesn’t understand the material well. Whether you’re using a web conferencing platform or a landline, callers can pick up on whether or not your voice sounds confident about what you’re discussing. Be sure you understand the material as best you can before the call, so you don’t seem like you have no idea what you’re talking about.
If you feel uncomfortable with the material, don’t be afraid to ask one of the other attendees to lead the call; especially if they’re well-versed in what’s being discussed. If you must have a call about last quarter’s financials, but you haven’t had a chance to look over the details, it’s ok to pass the torch off to someone who’s more familiar with the info. There’s no shame in admitting you’re unable to discuss a topic you know nothing about, but trying to lead a call with no knowledge of the talking points can be disastrous (and feel like an enormous waste of time to everyone else).
4. Encourage Questions
Additionally, you want your callers to be able to retain any information they learn on the call. Encourage them to ask questions both during and after the call, perhaps in a follow-up email. After the call is complete, it’s a good idea to send an email listing some key points and encouraging anyone with questions to respond to the thread. It’s better to ensure your callers retained the information than to hope they did, only to find out later that wasn’t the case.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of an effective conference call is courtesy. Believe it or not, more than a few calls have been completely derailed by rude or otherwise distracting callers. Background noise, side conversations, or downright rudeness can distract the callers from the goals at hand and make things much more difficult overall.
Always wait for the person who is speaking to finish before you speak, and familiarize yourself with the mute button. If you’re using web software, you can mute other callers if they become too distracting with background noise or rudeness. Be sure to encourage the other callers to be courteous as well.