A dozen ways to get the most out of your teleconference
It’s not surprising that conference calls continue to grow in popularity with both large and small businesses. The advantages of a telephone conference call over a face-to- face meeting are almost too numerous to list. Here are just a few. You save on travel time and on meeting space, and those savings can be huge. With today’s teleconference technology you can bring in consultants from across the street or around the globe. With a well-organized and properly coordinated telephone conference meeting you can have the right conversation with the right people at the right time. And you can do it in a way that works for everyone.
Modern conference call services offer a practical and cost-effective alternative to exhausting and expensive business travel. Participants can dial in to a conference call from their office, from their home or from anywhere else they can find cell coverage – and these days that means pretty much anywhere at all. They can even use a pay phone if they can find one that’s still operating. Staff working out of town or across the country can participate along with their colleagues in head office. A conference call offers a human connection that email does not. It’s a way of insuring that everyone is kept in the loop, no matter how distant they are. There’s the opportunity for instant feedback and brainstorming along with the free exchange of ideas and information. Perhaps most importantly, a conference call can be organized quickly at times when rapid input or immediate action from a large group is called for.
Today a conference call can be set up easily and at very little cost. If you need to gather a group of staff or discuss an important project with a potential customer while respecting everybody’s time, there is no better way to do business.
Should your company be taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the best conference call services? Absolutely. But not all conference calls are created equal. Here are a few pointers to make sure you get full value from your call.
For the organizer:
1. Send out an agenda
Assuming time allows, prepare an agenda for your conference call and email it in advance it to everyone who’s going to be taking part. This eliminates the possibility that someone on the call will be taken by surprise or caught unprepared for part of the discussion, so it saves time in the long run. Along with the agenda include any supporting documents or background information that you think might be relevant to the conversation. Creating an agenda and sticking to it will help to keep your discussion focussed on the issue at hand and your participants on topic.
2. Set a timeframe
Make sure everyone involved knows how long they can expect to be on the conference call so they can clear sufficient time in their schedule. Make an effort to stay within that time frame. Be sure to allow a few minutes for any questions or feedback at the end of the call.
3. Appoint a note taker
This is as simple as it sounds. Ask someone to sit in on the call and make notes of the important points of the conversation as they come up. Make sure they have a list of the names of everyone who’s taking part. Highlight decisions that were made and next steps to be taken and circulate those notes to everyone who was on the call as soon as is reasonably possible. It’s important to do this while the conversation is still fresh in everyone’s minds.
4. Perform introductions
Unless you’re dealing with a very small group who already know each other, ask everyone to say who they are and what they do at the beginning of the call. This allows participants to get a sense of who is involved in the conversation. It also serves as a bit of an ice breaker.
5. Stick to the subject at hand
One of the challenges you might come up against is holding the attention of people who are not physically present. It can be easy for the mind to wander. That's why it is important to keep the meeting on track and moving forward without allowing one person to dominate the discussion or lead the conversation in the wrong direction. If someone is talking for too long or bringing up items that aren’t relevant to the discussion be prepared to cut in and steer the conversation back to the items that were laid out in the agenda.
6. Wrap it up
At the end of the call verbally summarize any decisions that were made any next steps to be taken. Sure, you’re going to send out notes later, but this allows anyone to interject with something you may have missed or misunderstood. While you’re wrapping up thank everyone for their participation. If it’s apparent that a follow up call is necessary to deal with any outstanding issues try to schedule it at this point, while you have the attention, and hopefully the enthusiasm, of all of the people involved.
For the participants:
1. Clear your schedule
Try to treat a conference call as you would treat any other meeting. That means calling in on time to the conference call system and staying on the line for the duration of the discussion. If you absolutely have to step away at some point make sure others on the call are aware that you’re leaving. The last thing you want is someone directing a comment or question toward you and being met with silence.
2. Choose where you want to be
You can take part in a conference call from just about anywhere. But to limit distraction, whenever possible try to take the call somewhere where there’s not a lot of other things going on. If you’re out of the office this can be a bit of a challenge. A quiet corner of a parking lot will do in a pinch. The food court of the mall on a Friday lunchtime? Maybe not so much.
If you can't find a quiet area, use the handset rather than having your phone on speaker. And if you’re afraid background noise is going to be an issue for other users you can use the mute button on your phone until it comes time for you to say something.
3. Identify yourself when talking
Sure, you took part in introductions at the start of the call but, if you’re dealing with more than a handful of participants, it’s easy for listeners to lose track of who is speaking. If you’re about to contribute something make sure people know who it’s coming from. Context is vital to a successful call. Your opinion matters, or you wouldn’t have been asked to take part. But don’t assume that everyone will recognize your voice.
4. Speak slowly and enunciate clearly
This just makes sense. It’s important to get your point across and to be understood by those who are listening. The others won’t be able to see your face or read your body language, so your words are all they will have to go on. Make sure your meaning is clear and make an effort to avoid saying anything that could be misinterpreted. Be prepared to revisit your points and repeat and provide clarification if necessary. And be careful not to talk over other people. That way lies madness.
5. Ask questions
Be prepared to ask for clarification if someone’s point isn’t clear. It’s far better to do this while the call is ongoing than to wait and find out later that you misunderstood.
6. Stay focussed
Yes, it may be tempting to do a little multi-tasking while you’re on a conference call. No one can see you and hey, those emails aren’t going to answer themselves, are they? But doing two things at the same time usually results in neither of them being done particularly well. Focus on the call and on the conversation. You’ll be glad you did.
And that’s all there is to it. A successful conference call is an important tool for business in the 21st Century. It will save time and money while allowing you to bring together the key stakeholders for your decision-making process. It just makes sense.