Frustrated Businesspeople Listening to Conference Callby: Robby Slaughter

My friend Casey says that “…conference calls are proof that technology cannot make people happy.” It’s hard to imagine a scourge of the modern workplace that is worse than multi-party phone conversations, and for remote teams it’s even worse. It’s a wonder that any of us can get anything done, considering how many people are trapped in these calls daily. What should we do?

Here are five tips for running better conference calls:

Establish Ground Rules

Every organizational call needs to conform to upfront agreements about how the calls should operate. You can make these for yourself, but they should be designed to benefit everyone and communicated to every person you work with.

For example, ground rules might include that conference call invitations must include an agenda, or that invited parties should only reply if they cannot make it. Some companies have a rule that conference calls cannot exceed one hour except for emergencies, or that the host of the call has a special responsibility for follow-up. Another common rule is that if the organizer does not arrive within three minutes of the start time, the call is cancelled.

Whatever protocol you want to establish, make sure it’s shared and agreed upon. And if you need examples for ground rules, keep reading.

Starting On Time

Given the prevalence of cellphones and the ability to plan our schedules, there’s practically no excuse for arriving late to a conference call. A good practice is to agree that the call will start at exactly three minutes after the start time, and to send an email to all parties at the start time as a reminder.

In any case, waiting around for people can be tremendously frustrating. Another tip is to announce, “I’m going on mute, but I will be listening for when we start.”

Send Out an Agenda

A meeting without an agenda is sure to wander into a variety of random topics, many of which won’t be  helpful. When you schedule the conference call, also announce what will be discussed and consider including time stamps. Use this as a reminder to keep things moving along.

Intros and Outros

When a meeting is in person, it’s easy to tell who is speaking. But on a conference call, it can be hard to identify voices. At the top of the agenda, the organizer should name everyone on the call and explain their role in the meeting. If the person leading can’t say anything other than “they are here to listen,” that’s a good sign this person doesn’t need to be a part of this call, and can read the minutes later.

Likewise, each time a person speaks up they should identify themselves. “This is Bob; I agree, but I’m also thinking…” Using this approach is especially helpful for calls with more than five people, as well as when the participants are not well-acquainted.

Finally, consider ending any thoughts with a technique borrowed from radio operators: the word “over.” This way, people know you’re done speaking and can respond if needed.

Attendance and Wrap-Ups

At the top of the call, the organizer should take attendance and have each person say hello. This proves their line is working and allows them to be identified by their own unique voice. It also shows they are plugged into the conversation.

At the end of the call, the organizer should repeat this process, but instead of just a greeting each person should confirm their post-meeting action step. And if someone has nothing to do, that might indicate they shouldn’t have been invited in the first place.

If these recommendations lead to fewer conference calls, you’re welcome. And if they help the ones that remain to run more efficiently, imagine what your company will be able to accomplish in the future.


About the Author:

Robby Slaughter

Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.

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