Conference calls often get a bad rap. People say they are dull, impersonal and a waste of time. And you know what, sometimes they are. But a conference call can be a very useful tool if you handle it well.
Building the right team and keeping that team involved and motivated has been a challenge for businesses since businesses first came about. But today things can be just a little bit harder. The modern global marketplace has brought with it an increase in the number of workers who telecommute or work from home. Add to that a steadily growing number of contract workers and virtual employees, and many managers find themselves trying to manage and motivate a team of people who they rarely meet face to face, if they ever meet them at all.
In an ideal world, you’d be able to regularly bring everyone together in person, have a short but productive meeting and send them off motivated, energized and raring to go. But often distance, scheduling or any other factors mean you just can’t make that happen. That means your best bet is a telephone conference call.
But a conference call will only be effective if it’s done well. And let’s face it, lots of them are not. A recent study from the US found that fully 50 per cent of employees felt that any given meeting or conference call was unproductive and pretty much a waste of time. And a badly run call or meeting will sap an employee’s strength and dampen their enthusiasm faster than just about anything else.
So, how do you make sure your conference call is not one of the dreaded 50 per cent that are time wasters or worse?
A conference call has a number of things in its favour. It’s up to you to make the most of them. A conference call allows you to arrange a team meeting without incurring the expense or inconvenience of travel time. Attendees can join you with less interruption to their normal workflow. With the right technology, you can bring your team together to share ideas and information whether they’re located in Calgary, Canada, Kalgoorlie, Australia or any place in between. A conference call allows you to handpick the right participants; you can select the people who you need to be in the know. It lets you keep your team in the loop and it lets you set the tone for the work that’s ahead.
If you’re going to get the most out of a conference call then the onus is on you to lay out the ground rules and to make sure you’ve done everything possible to ensure it’s a success. Here are a few simple tips for effective business management through conference calls.
First off, get the timing right. If you’re setting up a regular weekly or monthly call for a project briefing or information sharing make sure to schedule it for a time when people are likely to be at their best and at their most engaged. Exactly when that is will very much depend on the nature of your business. But if, for example, you operate on a regular Monday to Friday schedule then bear in mind that people will be less focussed on work on a Friday afternoon and any information shared is likely to be half-forgotten by the time they get to work on Monday.
Take time to get to know your people. Relationships matter. If you’re going to be dealing with someone on a regular basis make the effort to get to know them one-on-one. Regular, or even occasional, face to face meetings may be impossible -- that’s probably a big part of why you’re on a conference call in the first place. But a follow-up phone call or even a personal email can go a long way toward ensuring that a participant knows that his or her input is both valued and important. It’s easy for someone to feel that their voice is lost in the babble of the crowd, especially when there’s no opportunity for eye contact. If you want to get the most out of your team it’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Establish a clear goal for each call. In an earlier blog post, we talked about the importance of setting, and sticking to, an agenda. This will give people time to prepare and time to put some thought into what they want to contribute. It’s important to be realistic about what you can achieve. Don’t try to shoehorn in more than can be dealt with in a single session. And if an issue arises that can be dealt with by two or three members of your team, set aside a separate time to do that rather than making everyone else listen in to something where they have no interest and no involvement.
Be there early to greet participants. This just makes sense. You’re the host. You should be the first to call in. That’s partly so you can make sure that everything is working as it should. But more importantly, it’s to greet participants as they call in. This can also help break the ice with a less formal chat before the meeting proper gets underway.
Make sure everyone knows who else is on the line. If your call is a regularly scheduled conversation with the same members of your team you can probably skip this step. But if there are any newcomers or outsiders involved make sure all participants are aware of who they are and why they are involved before you start working through your agenda.
Keep it lively. That doesn’t mean you need to open with a joke, although if you do, make sure it’s one no one has heard before. But if you’re able to keep things upbeat and high energy you’ll do a far better job of holding everyone’s attention throughout the call.
Don’t be sidetracked by people who call in late. This may be easier said than done, but late arrivals on a conference call, as with any meeting, will interrupt the flow of the conversation. If at all possible avoid holding everyone up while you update a late comer. Someone calling in late may have a very good reason for doing so. Or they may not. In the normal run of things it’s perfectly acceptable to expect people to treat a conference call as they would any other meeting. That means showing up on time, paying attention to what is said and staying until the end. If you find you have a regular latecomer find out why. If it’s a good reason consider rescheduling future calls to accommodate him.
Limit attendees if possible. Think very carefully about who you invite to participate in a conference call. Try to make sure that everyone who will be taking part will either have something worthwhile to contribute or something worthwhile to learn. Otherwise, you’re just wasting their time, which you are probably paying for. Keeping numbers low will also encourage everyone involved to participate. One of the pitfalls of conference calls is that people tend to attempt to multi-task, answering texts and emails etc. while the call is ongoing. That means, of course, that you don’t have anything close to their full attention. People will be much less likely to try to multi-task if they feel they may be called upon to contribute at any minute.
Start and end your call on schedule. You may be the boss, you may be in charge, but you should always respect people’s time. It’s just good manners.
Remember that this is your meeting. You’ll always find there are some people who will talk a lot during a call and some who will say very little. Unfortunately, the willingness of someone to talk doesn’t always equate to the value of what they have to say. Don’t let one person dominate the conversation unless they are clearly the best qualified to speak to a particular issue.
Solicit feedback. Encourage people to be honest. Find out if everyone is getting what they need from these calls. If you got it right first time and everybody’s happy, then congratulations!!! But there’s every chance you’ll need to tweak a few things to make sure that every member of your team is getting the maximum benefit from the time they’re committing. Remember to be adaptable.
Always follow up with an email. This is an important final step. There’s absolutely no need to go over every tiny little detail of every item that was covered during your call, but if important decisions were made and tasks assigned you should absolutely send out a written record of what took place, just so everyone involved is absolutely clear on what’s expected.
So there you have it. If it’s handled effectively a conference call can be a simple, inexpensive and practical way of building, managing and leading your team.
If you’d like to learn more about how Intercon Messaging can help with your conference calls, or about any of the other services we can offer your business, give us a call at 866 605 2558 or click on the link below.