For many businesses, especially in these times where we are trying to socially distance as much as possible, in-person meetings are a thing of the past. Phone and video conferencing have become an everyday part of the business new normal.
Many people have a tendency to treat these types of meetings more informally than those that occur in person. However, now that they are such an integral part of the functioning of most businesses, you’d do well to treat them with the same professionalism as you treat any other meeting.
General Conference Call Tips
Decide beforehand who is calling whom. If you are requesting the meeting, or if the call is between yourself and a client, you should make the call. If the call is with someone who is interviewing for a position or they are the one requesting to speak with you, they should call.
This goes for video conferencing as well. Whoever is calling or organizing the meeting should create a meeting in Zoom, Webex or one of the many other online conferencing services, and send out the invitation.
Don’t be late! Just because it’s not an in-person meeting doesn’t absolve you of the need to be on time. If you are going to be late, please let your meeting organizer know as soon as possible so they can reschedule or rearrange topics if necessary.
[Related: Quick Tips for a Successful Conference Call]
Have a contact for technical issues. If you are attending a video conference call, be sure to have the phone number of the meeting organizer in case you have connection problems, so that you can call or text someone to let them know what is going on.
Pick an appropriate meeting location. Be sure to call in from a place where you will have the best connection possible and be undisturbed. Dedicated landlines are preferable. PLEASE don’t call in from a cell phone while you are driving or in a noisy public place unless this is absolutely the only option you have and you have explained your situation to the meeting organizer in advance.
Practice ahead of time. If your call requires using some type of phone conferencing feature or special software, please be sure to download whatever you need in advance and test everything out to make sure that you know how to use the tools. Don’t expect your meeting members to wait for you or troubleshoot your issues while you try to figure out how to conference in.
Mute yourself! Mute your phone or computer audio input when not speaking. Oftentimes there will be unavoidable background noise at each caller’s location and being able to hear all of that during the call is terribly distracting. So unless you are having a one-on-one call, it is considered good conference call etiquette to be muted when not speaking.
Tips for Hosting a Conference Call
Set a time that works for everyone. Make sure that whatever time you set for your meeting works for your participants, or at least the most essential participants, before you send out an invitation. Nothing looks less professional than simply sending out a meeting invitation and finding out that an important guest can’t attend at that time. Then you have to cancel the meeting you created, explain your mistake and send a new invite.
Only invite essential people. Be mindful of everyone’s time and don’t invite people who are only peripherally involved with the topic of discussion. Or give those less-essential people the option to attend if they like, but leave it up to them. The more people that are in attendance, the more tendency there is for topics to get off track, the less each person gets to contribute to the conversation and the less listeners tend to pay attention. If you have many people that need to be involved, consider breaking out into more smaller meetings with more defined agendas for individual groups or departments.
Set a reasonable agenda. People often have shorter attention spans for conference calls than for in-person meetings. They may also be distracted by other activities and people around them. Try not to create a long list of items to be discussed all in one sitting if you can avoid it. It may be advisable to break your meeting into smaller chunks and spread it out into a few shorter meetings if you have a lot to discuss.
Set a length and stick to it. Don’t create open-ended meetings and be mindful of everyone’s time. Set a time limit and keep an eye on the clock. If you have scheduled a one-hour meeting and find yourself reaching the one-hour mark but still have quite a bit to discuss, check to see if everyone is okay with staying longer, or if you need to set up another time to continue the discussion. Your attendees will appreciate that you aren’t abusing their time and will be more receptive to future meetings if they know that schedules will be adhered to.
Create a written agenda. Send an agenda to all meeting attendees ahead of time and notate who is going to be expected to lead that portion or give an update so everyone can prepare. You should act as the facilitator to make sure the meeting sticks to the agenda and moves along efficiently.
Be careful with screen sharing! First of all, don’t share anyone else’s screen without warning them ahead of time and getting their permission. And when sharing your own screen, be sure to close out or hide any sensitive documents or windows that might be up. Best to close out everything but the program you want to share.
Check in with everyone. If there is anyone not contributing, call them out and see what they are thinking. It could be they have a legitimate concern or a dissenting opinion but were afraid to rock the boat. (Or it could be they are surfing their social media and not paying attention.)
Send out meeting minutes and action items. You can assign someone to take notes or you could record the session and write up some to-dos yourself afterwards. Email the meeting minutes and action items to all the attendees with timelines for follow-up.