How to Lead an Effective Conference Call
You need to lead a conference call. And, ideally, you’d like it to be as productive, effective, and—if you could be so greedy—enjoyable as possible. At its core, a conference call is a meeting. But, it comes with its fair share of unique challenges that you won’t deal with during a traditional sit-down.
For one, you’re not interacting with people face-to-face. The lack of body language and other nonverbal cues makes other standard meeting fodder—think small talk or even jokes—fall flat over the phone. Secondly, because you aren’t in the same room as all of these people, there’s no way to tell how engaged your participants are. One person could be actively listening and enthralled in your discussion about that quarter’s sales number. But another? He could be more wrapped up in his current game of solitaire—and you wouldn’t even know.
So, that leaves you with one big question: How can you lead an effective conference call? How can you make sure it’s as impactful, engaging—and ideally—efficient as possible? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Practice With the Technology
There’s nothing worse than hearing, “Let me see if I can figure out how to add the others to this call… oops, how do I get this person off mute? Hello… hello, are you there?”
Before getting everybody on the call and then wasting their time with technological hiccups and blunders, make sure you practice with the technology and have a clear understanding of how to do everything you’ll need to do during your meeting—whether that’s adding participants, sharing your screen or something else entirely.
Fortunately, using the right conferencing solutions provider will help with this greatly, as all of the tools and functions will be as user-friendly as possible!
2. Share an Agenda
You should develop an agenda for every meeting that you coordinate—whether it’s a conference call or in-person. Sharing what will be discussed with your participants ahead of time ensures that everybody is on the same page, and also gives attendees a chance to prepare for a productive discussion.
For a conference call, it’s best to keep the topics you’ll cover as focused and limited as possible. Attempting to switch gears and discuss eight different things will likely lead to an unfocused conversation—and an overly lengthy call. So, attempt to maintain a certain level of cohesiveness and clarity when mapping out your agenda. That’ll go a long way in increasing your productivity.
Additionally, make sure to note on your agenda if there’s anything specific you’re hoping participants will contribute to certain topics. For example, if you want Jason from marketing to step in and provide some insights about the website redesign, note his name on the agenda with some points you’re hoping he’ll cover. That way, he can not only get his information in order ahead of the call, but he’ll also feel much more comfortable jumping in and participating when he knows that was the intention from the beginning.
3. Prepare Questions
On a conference call, you’re missing those natural queues of when someone’s winding down their own contributions—it makes it difficult to know when it’s a good time to jump in and speak yourself, which often leads to that awkward tango of, “I’m sorry, go ahead,” and then “Oh no, you go ahead.”
This is why it’s a smart idea for you as the meeting leader to prepare some questions ahead of time. That way, when attempting to further the discussion, you can direct relevant questions to specific people.
Similar to listing people on the agenda, that prompt will empower people to chime in with their two cents—without fear of cutting someone else off.
4. Consider the Number of Attendees
A meeting with far too many people is always complicated. But, this becomes especially true on a conference call when it’s harder for people to chime in and participants can easily get lost.
It’s always smart to think carefully about who actually needs to be in attendance for your call. If you can’t find a spot for that person on the agenda and you don’t have any specific or clarifying questions you plan to target him or her, chances are good that person can be cut from the meeting entirely. But, even with that careful consideration, sometimes there’s no way around it—you need to have a lot of people chiming in on your conference call.
When that’s the case, make sure that your conferencing provider offers the option to split up into sub-conferences or breakaway sessions. That way, smaller teams can have productive conversations about different topics and then rejoin the larger group afterward.
5. Start With Introductions
It’s tough to build rapport and a certain level of friendliness over the phone. And, when you have a group of people who are all in the same conference room conversing with a few people who are participating remotely, it’s especially easy for the people on the phone to feel like they’re second class.
Make sure to start your meeting with introductions so that everybody—including the people on the phone!—can get a sense of who’s there and what they do.
Additionally, when somebody who’s present in the room starts speaking, make sure everybody gets in the habit of stating their name before contributing their ideas. That way, people who aren’t there in person can still feel in the loop on who’s saying what. It’s a seemingly small thing, but it makes a big difference in the level of engagement your participants feel.
6. Watch Your Time
Even the most productive conference call is going to grate on people if it drones on for hours on end. So, make it your goal to keep your conference call as short as possible while still covering the necessary bases.
Limiting your topics and the number of attendees should help with that. But, as the leader of the meeting, you should be prepared to act as the moderator as well. If things start to get off-topic, you’ll need to jump in and steer things in the right direction. Or, if someone is monopolizing far too much time, you should be ready to step up and get things back on track.
Effective and efficient conference calls can be deceptively tricky to pull off. But, these six tips should help you put together a call that’s productive—while also eliminating as many groans and eye rolls as possible. And, when in doubt, it’s definitely worth checking out if video conferencing is a potential solution for you and your team. Getting to interact face-to-face—even when you’re miles apart—can be a huge benefit to your participants and the overall success of your meeting.