How to make conference calls worth your time: 53 tips for better conference calls.

Wasting time

I often hear people saying “oh,  face to face meetings are so much better I would rather not have conference calls.”

They are right.

There is no better means of forming relationships than meeting face to face. Its what happens between those face to face meetings that is the problem.

For any kind of worthwhile collaboration you need continual communication.  This is particularly true for collaborative research where plans change from week to week. Waiting 3 months to decide what to do next puts your project on a elephant’s pace. Worse it means people solve problems on their own instead of bringing them to the group.

The power of conference calls

Why not put the collective wisdom of your collaborators at your fingertips?

A conference call is the best place to solve difficult problems. You get the benefit of different perspectives. You also get the benefit of having to defend your viewpoint. Sometimes a debate is what you need to strengthen your arguments and shore up your plans.

It is nice if everyone you need to work with is just down the hall  and you always meet face to face. In today’s world of dispersed resources and increasingly complex problems requiring increasingly diverse teams no one enjoys that luxury.

Conference calls enable you to maintain a continual line of communication with your collaborators. Use them for more than just updates. Use them to make plans and solve problems, big problems. Doing this effectively is not easy. Why?

Because most people assume conference calls are the same as face to face meetings. They are not. You need to emphasize different aspects of meeting dynamics in a conference call. You also have to manage yourself.

53 tips for better conference calls

  1. Pay attention: Use conference calls as good practice for breaking your multi-tasking habit.

  2. Ask relevant questions: Often when you ask a question as a non-expert, there are experts on the conference call that were wondering the same thing.

  3. Look for pauses and interrupt those who are going on and on: It is perfectly okay for anyone on a conference call to drive the direction of a conference call away from an incessant discussion.

  4. Ask for input from the people who have been quiet: It is not the quiet ones you have to watch out for. They are the ones you should look to for solutions.

  5. Say “Can we make a decision on this?” periodically: Sometimes, or to be truthful, quite often people just forget they should be making decisions.

  6. Put your actions directly into your task manager: This might go without saying, however it serves to emphasize the principle that you should view conference calls as active processes.

  7. Pay attention to how the conversation is going:  Are you making decisions? Is someone else dominating the discussion? Are you still on topic? It can be interesting to think about the group dynamics.

  8. Repeat decisions: Once people hear the decision being taken in clear succinct terms you ignite their passion.

  9. Record decisions: You and most people on the conference call will not remember the decisions that were made, even 30 minutes after the conference call.

  10. Summarize discussions in a meaningful way: Well written summaries of the discussion are a form of communication and a skill.

  11. Tag agenda items for later recall: Unless it is a one off conference call for a simple project, it is likely that you will want to recall issues that were discussed at a later date.

  12. Be bold: Realize that your personality gets muted on a conference call. You need to dial up the volume.

  13. Ask who is going to do what and when:. What is the point of having a conference call if it is not going to lead to things getting done?

  14. Try to come up with a synthesis solution when there is a conflict: The best solutions are those that create a synergy between opposing viewpoints.

  15. Record risks that come up: By focusing on risks you are becoming proactive, and proactivity is highly efficient.

  16. Use a reliable teleconferencing system: Not being able to hear or connect easily is an annoyance that will dampen attendees enthusiasm.

  17. Send reminders: Conference calls often receive a low priority, and people tend to forget about them.

  18. Schedule way in advance: The further out you plan the conference call the more likely you will be to find availability alignment.

  19. Use Doodle poll to schedule multi participant conference calls: Doodle is well know and it has gotten better over time.

  20. Share a screen: Even if you have nothing particular to share, use screen sharing. It can be very helpful when something comes up or just to help others follow progress.

  21. Make sure you can mute individual attendees: Count on someone using a speaker phone and causing feedback. If you can mute individuals you can isolate the problem.

  22. Open up all the files you might need beforehand: Periods of silence while you look for files are twice as painful on a conference call.

  23. Go to a quiet place: Minimize distractions and background noise.

  24. Use a speaker phone with good noise reduction: Not all speaker phones are equal, some have excellent noise reduction and prevent echoing

  25. Have your computer with you: You can do little work today without your computer. Why would a conference call be an exception?

  26. Focus on the conference call topics: If the conference call is too irrelevant for you to pay attention then dial off.

  27. Set a purpose: Why are you having a conference call?

  28. Set objectives: What are you going to accomplish?

  29. Use first names: View it as a working group and dispense with formalities.

  30. Show up: Conference calls where key people are not present are a waste of time.

  31. Pay attention to who is who:  You can learn voices like you learn faces.

  32. Take your own minutes: Even if you are not the official minute taker, take your own minutes. Itwill help you to pay attention and to summarize the meeting later.

  33. List out new ideas that occur to you during the TC: Discussions tend to stimulate the formation of ideas in your own head. Take them down and review them later.

  34. Choose a good leader: To go without saying.

  35. Use mute if you have a lot of background noise where you are at: If everyone did this audio problems on TC would be far and few between.

  36. Don’t replace conference calls with face to face meetings: If you wait until the next face to face meeting to discuss something you will unnecessarily delay things.

  37. Prepare an agenda well in advance: People will have better ideas and better input if they at least can think about what will be discussed in advance.

  38. Have a facilitator in addition to the leader: Leaders are part of the project, facilitators are there to make sure the conference call is productive.

  39. Complete your actions right after the conference call: Take a do it now approach.

  40. Followup on others actions: Everyone forgets. Your help to remind people will be appreciated.

  41. Update your calendar when there are changes: It is frustrating when people ignore automated calendar changes.

  42. Don’t interrupt others: Group creativity is best fostered by letting everyone have a say.

  43. Lead if no one else is: You do not have to be the named leader to provide some direction to the discussion.

  44. Stand up and move around: This will keep you from being bored and developing back problems.

  45. Aim to end 15 minutes early: Everyone likes a conference call that ends early.

  46. Always make a decision: Deciding not to decide now is still a decision.

  47. Distribute the work evenly: You’re kidding yourself if you think things will get done if only a few are assigned all the actions.

  48. Don’t let the discussion veer off course: Speak up and bring the group back to the agenda.

  49. Review the minutes after the conference call: Seeing everything for a second time will reinforce it.

  50. Don’t be shy about asking for things to be repeated:  Others will appreciate the repeat as well.

  51. Send longer discussions to their own dedicated conference call:  Some things take more time to discuss.

  52. Track issues: It is easy to forget about issues once a conference call is finished. Keep track of issues using some sort of spreadsheet or system.

  53. Learn about conference calls: Very few people take the time learn how to run and take part in conference calls. You should.

As conference calls become more and more central to our way of working, you need to spend  time sharpening your conference call saw.  A small proactive investment in managing your conference calls pays off in dividends of time and successful collaborative projects.

Who knows you may find you prefer conference calls to being uprooted and trotted out to a face to face meeting where the first ½ of the meeting is a set of slides you have seen 100 times before.

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About Scott Wagers

Physician Scientist now focused on supporting collaborative translational research projects as the CEO of BioSci Consulting (www.biosciconsulting.com).