Is there anything worse in corporate life than a day full of meetings? I can’t think of many.
Back in the early days of business, meetings had to occur in face-to-face settings. People would travel the country to attend such meetings.
Now, in the internet age, we do more electronically than we do face-to-face. In some respects, that’s a good thing. It definitely creates efficiency. In other respects, we’ve lost the personal touch that business used to be built on.
While meetings still happen (and some days even one is too many if it’s not facilitated correctly), many of them are now held as conference calls.
Conference calls are nice because they can be more efficient. However, we lose the ability to read facial expressions, body language and the “feel” of the room.
We can use certain tactics, and etiquette, to create effective and efficient conference calls. Follow these tips for conference call etiquette and you will experience more effective and useful calls:
Schedule early – You’re busy. I’m busy. We are all so busy that finding time where everyone is available is hard to do.
To give yourself the best chance of having everyone available for a conference call, schedule the call as early as possible. If it is early enough, the attendees can schedule around it rather than re-scheduling other meetings or appointments.
Calendar appointments – One of the advantages of the technical age is the use of electronic calendars. Most businesses use an email system with an electronic calendar built-in.
Conference call etiquette regarding appointments is no different than sending invitations for a wedding. Do it early, request an RSVP and provide details.
Send the appointments using that electronic calendar. This will allow you to easily track acceptances. You can perform follow-up with individuals who neither accept nor decline.
For me, if a meeting doesn’t get added to my calendar, I’ll miss it. I live and die by my electronic calendar.
Electronic documents and call-in information – A calendar appointment should include all details pertaining to the call.
A conference call is similar to a face-to-face meeting. You want attendees to come prepared. Therefore, you want to give them everything they need to be prepared.
Attach to the calendar appointment the agenda for the call. If the agenda changes, you can simply update the appointment and everyone will always have a copy of the most recent agenda.
Recently, I participated in a conference call and discovered there were two agendas. One was included in the calendar appointment and one was sent via email. Both were sent/updated within a short time of each other so I wasn’t sure which was the correct version.
To make things as easy as possible for each participant in the conference call, add the call-in number in the appointment subject line as well as at the top of the agenda. Inevitably, someone will request the number but this will reduce the number of people who do this.
A few more tips for the agenda:
- Limit the agenda to one page if possible. Most people will have it on a computer screen and it’s easier to not have to scroll.
- If more than one person will have formal assignments during the call, indicate those roles on the agenda. It’s always nice, as a listener, to know who is speaking.
- Do not rearrange the agenda. It’s so frustrating to get to a meeting or onto a conference call and be told the agenda is changing. How do you keep up with that? If the agenda has to change, update it in the appointment so everyone can see the current agenda.
- Add estimated times to each agenda item.
Practice call – For formal conference calls where specific people will be presenting (rather than a conference call for discussion purposes), have a practice session.
Practice sessions do not have to be a total pre-play of the call but there should be formal discussion about who will do what and when.
It’s also important to discuss how transition between speakers will be handled.
Presentation-type conference calls should be taken as seriously as a webinar. Practice may not make perfect but it will reduce the errors and confusion.
Expect technical issues – How many conference calls have you tried to connect to and had to redial or simply couldn’t connect? Several, right?
When using technology, no matter how simple, you need to expect technical issues.
To combat the potential issues, provide alternative contact data. If you are the organizer, add information to the email calendar appointment about how to inform you of difficulties.
Contact information might be as simple as emailing you with issues. Maybe you provide the number for your office manager, receptionist or even your cell phone number.
Just like the Boy Scouts motto, you need to be prepared.
Phone reception – Call reception quality is important with any conference call. It’s similar to listening to the radio. The more static and interference on the line, the less likely a participant will stay to the end.
To provide the best reception possible, use a land line. Using a cell phone as an active participant should be the last resort. The reception is too hit-and-miss.
Also, plan to be in a closed-in office during the call. This will reduce background noise for the call participants and will be less disruptive to those around you.
Do not take a conference call from a restaurant or other public location. If you can’t be in an office, sit in your car.
Be cognizant of the noise you make as a presenter on a conference call. If you are typing, the listeners can hear it. If you feel compelled to clean your desk during the call, for heaven’s sake, don’t crumple paper.
The following video is a representation of how a typical conference call would be in a face-to-face meeting. I’ve watched this clip several times and it is always as real (and funny) as the previous time. Check it out.
Connect early – This is two-fold depending on your role on the conference call. Leaders and presenters should connect a set amount of time before the call to go over any last minute (hopefully few) questions or agenda changes.
The early connection also helps guarantee each presenter will be on the call timely.
Depending on the conference call service, you might be able to talk in a private session and the service provider can open up the line to participants at the start time.
As a normal participant, connect to the call five minutes early. Being late to a conference call is like walking in late to a face-to-face meeting. It looks bad and it’s rude. It demonstrates you’re not taking the call seriously.
Roll call – Performing a roll call may be necessary for smaller discussion-type calls. For conference calls with large numbers of participants, do not waste time by performing a roll call.
If you want to know everyone who was on the call and your conference call system does not track this for you, ask the participants to send a confirmation email to you or a designated email address.
Spending 10 minutes taking roll and then jumping all around when people connect late does no one any good. Not only is it disrespectful to the participants, it’s a waste of time.
Start on time – Conference call etiquette — business etiquette — demands meetings start on time. Starting a call late, just like taking 10 minutes for roll call, is disrespectful of the participants’ time.
Everyone is busy and we want our conference calls to be as productive and provide as much value as possible. Starting late will put you behind the eight ball immediately.
Provide instructions – Even though an agenda has been provided to everyone, it is useful to go over certain information at the beginning of the call.
The following items should be addressed during the introduction:
- How to ask questions
- Phone number for technical issues if participant gets disconnected
- Mute the lines when not speaking
- Do not put the call on “Hold” as hold music can be disruptive
- Agenda was provided in calendar appointment
Follow the agenda – This shouldn’t need to be said but I’ll say it anyway. Follow the agenda as provided. Period.
Don’t multi-task – You may think you can be engaged on a conference call and work on other tasks. You can’t. Multi-tasking is impossible. You can only focus on one thing at a time so focus on the conference call.
Would it be considered good manners to read other material in a face-to-face meeting? No! Then, don’t do it on a conference call.
Don’t let one person dominate – We all know certain people like to talk simply to hear themselves speak. This is even worse on a conference call.
It takes some skill to get these types of people to stop talking but it is necessary. If a participant in an open-session is dominating the conversation and it makes you uneasy, it’s probably making everyone else uneasy.
Find a way to stop that person. It takes practice to do it without hurting feelings. Regardless, something needs to be said.
State your name – Unless there are just two or three people on the call, state your name when you begin to speak. I’ve been on several conference calls in which I have no idea who is speaking.
If that happens and you want to reference that part of the discussion later, it’s very difficult to identify who said what.
End on time – Just as a conference call should begin on time, ending on time is also important.
It is proper business etiquette and conference call etiquette to end the call at or before the designated time.
The close – At the end of the conference call, provide a brief oral summary of the decisions that were made, tasks that were assigned or simply thank the attendees for participating.
It is also nice to provide contact information for follow-up questions or comments. Tell everyone you will send a follow-up email with a written summary of the call that will also provide this information.
Follow-up – Send a follow-up email after the conference call is over. You don’t have to send it that day but it is best to draft it immediately after the call ends.
You may have taken good notes but writing the email immediately after the call while it is still fresh in your mind will help with the quality of the email.
The following are great ideas to include in the follow-up email:
- Presenters’ names and contact information
- Attendees (if you consider this applicable for everyone to know)
- Decisions made
- Tasks or responsibilities assigned
- Time tables for task completion
- Tabled discussions
- Next meeting time
Conference calls are necessary in the business world of today. Even when we reach the point of video conferencing becoming the dominate communication method, the 17 tips above will still be applicable.
Remember, conference call etiquette is the same as etiquette for face-to-face meetings. It’s more difficult to hold an effective conference call without following these etiquette best practices.
Question: What do you find most useful to hold effective conference calls?