Holding a conference call is much like any other meeting and needs to be planned as such. However, meeting via phone or video conference does offer some unique challenges. We have some tips to keep in mind when scheduling a conference call to help it run smoothly and effectively.
[Related: An Association’s Guide to Board Meetings]
Tips for Planning and Leading a Great Conference Call
- Create a written agenda. For a conference call meeting, it is even more important than usual to lay out the organization of the meeting in advance so that everyone in attendance knows when it is and is not time for them to speak. Otherwise the meeting can devolve into chaos as everyone is speaking over each other.
- Inform staff what they are to speak about. Let your employees or members know whether they will be expected to speak on a particular topic so that they may prepare. If you find that some participants don’t have any role to play in the call, decide whether or not they even need to attend. Perhaps they can be released to work on other things.
- Have someone facilitate discussion. Conference calls are even more prone than regular in-person meetings to have people talking over one another because when one person is talking, they may not be aware right away when someone else chimes in. It’s also more difficult to tell when someone is done talking, so again, people end up jumping in and then everyone is talking all at once. Having someone facilitate who will speak when can help to alleviate this issue. If anyone in the meeting has NOT been heard from, the facilitator should be sure to ascertain whether he or she has something to contribute and may simply have been waiting for an opening to speak.
- Consider using video. There are a great many advantages to doing your conference call via video rather than just audio. Even if you don’t want to be visible to all the people on the call, you may want to be able to live stream your computer screen to show a Powerpoint presentation, use visual aids or demonstrate some software. There are a number of free and inexpensive services like Zoom and Skype that make video conferencing pretty easy.
- Practice with the technology. Especially if you are planning a video conference that will involve visual aids like charts, graphs and videos, practice using the conference software and any other technology needed ahead of time. If you are not technologically-savvy, bring in someone who is to help you run the call.
Tips for Participating in a Conference Call
If you are asked to attend a phone or video conference call, it can be more challenging to have your ideas heard than at a traditional meeting, so plan ahead.
- Write down any issues you want to bring up. Have your list in front of you, and if there is a meeting agenda, plan on when the best time would be to bring up your ideas or concerns.
- Let the meeting organizer know you have something to say. If you let it be known ahead of time that you have topics you’d like to discuss on the call, hopefully your meeting organizer will add you to the agenda or allot time for you to speak.
- Be on time. This should go without saying, but don’t be late! Always phone in or log in a few minutes before the call is scheduled to begin.
- Try to eliminate ambient noise as much as possible. Take the call in a quiet room, make sure the door is shut and anything that might cause noise during the call (like cell phones, air filters, fans) is turned off.
- Don’t use your cell phone to call in. Try to find a stable land line with a good microphone and speaker on it that you can use for the call. You will hear and be heard much better than you will if you try to call in on a cell.
- Get close to the microphone. You will be heard better if you are sitting fairly close to the mic.
- Slow down. Talk slowly and enunciate. When people can’t see your mouth moving, they have a more difficult time understanding what you are saying. On a conference call err on the side of speaking slowly and loudly rather than quickly and quietly.
- Be concise and stay on topic. Make your points without rambling or bringing up issues that aren’t relevant. If the meeting is regarding planning next year’s budget, don’t try to discuss a really cool idea you have for where to hold this year’s holiday party. Everyone is busy and they also want to have a chance to speak and get back to their work.
- Take notes. Don’t expect that someone will send you minutes from the meeting that will include everything you need to remember. You may be called out to do something as a result of the discussions that go on in the call, so be sure to have some paper and a pen or your laptop ready to take notes.
- Record the call. If it’s a particularly important call, you may want to record it. Most conference call services offer this as a perk. Investigate in advance whether you can get a copy of the audio or video from the call.