Conference calls sound like a great idea. For a lot of reasons, in-person meetings just don’t work. People’s schedules and locations can make it virtually impossible to get together face-to-face. However, conference calls are far from a perfect solution.
Having participated in countless conference calls, I can confirm that just about everything that happens in this following video has been my experience. Even if you’ve already seen this video, you know how good it is. Watch it (again).
So what is the solution to overcoming the many hurdles surrounding unproductive, awkward conference calls? Mostly it’s organization. When I’m tasked with leading a conference call, I follow these seven simple rules to make the most of everyone’s time – and accomplish the goal of the call.
- Create a calendar invitation.
Simple, yet so often forgotten. When a group of people agree on a conference call date and time, someone needs to take the lead to send a calendar invitation to everyone. Why? Because people can’t be trusted to take this step on their own. Inevitably, it will slip their mind and they’ll either forget the call entirely or be scrambling to find the phone number and passcode. Reduce the number of “Hey I can’t find the conference call information, can you resend it to me?” emails you’ll have to answer by letting your online calendar serve as a reminder.
- Send reminder emails.
Speaking of reminders, yes you’ll need to do this at least twice leading up to the call. I’ve found that I can greatly increase conference call attendance (especially for large groups of people) by combining the calendar invitation with reminder emails. Key times to remind people are a few days before the call. For example, if it’s a Monday morning conference call, send a reminder email on Friday before everyone mentally clocks out for the weekend. For an afternoon conference call, I’ll remind people that morning so they include this obligation on their list of to-do’s for the day. If you really have a busy/forgetful group, send a final reminder within the hour of the call taking place. That way the call information is right in front of them and they have time to wrap up that other work project that may have gotten in the way.
- Have an agenda.
I’ll say it again, organization is the key to running a productive conference call. This starts with a focused agenda. Make sure someone is tasked with creating an agenda for the call and circulate this agenda with each of your reminder emails. When participants can follow along with the discussion items, this keeps them engaged and prevents the conversation from drifting all over the place (mostly). Most importantly, you won’t forget to cover an important item, reducing the number of follow-up calls or emails you’ll need to have.
- Designate a note-taker.
With an agenda, note taking is easy. However, the biggest mistake people make is not designating who will take the notes and send these notes to the group after the conference call. The designated note-taker should not be the same person leading the agenda. You want to pick someone who doesn’t need to speak a lot during the call. Also, the note-taker should be someone who pays attention and is detail oriented. It’s easy to miss things on a conference call if you’re not paying close attention and asking for clarification, when needed.
- Be mindful of time.
Just because you have an agenda to follow doesn’t mean you can let discussions go on and on and on. Set an expectation for the duration of the conference call. Most commonly this is one hour. Schedule it as such on your calendar invitation so everyone blocks off the appropriate amount of time. Next, stick to that time. If you’re a half hour into the call but only on your first agenda item, you need to wrap up discussion or make the decision to quickly move through your other agenda items. Long, drawn-out conference calls are likely to have attendees drop off or find reasons to avoid future calls. Keep things short and focused.
- Set a date for your next call.
Before you adjourn the meeting, be sure to set the date and time of your next call (if needed). Not doing so while everyone is on the call is a huge missed opportunity. This way you can quickly get everyone’s input on availability and avoid the dreaded “reply all” emails of everyone hashing out their schedules. Additionally, you can prompt everyone to add the next conference call to their calendars and you can include the reminder in your meeting recap email.
- Email a meeting recap with action items.
Finally there is the meeting recap email. This is possibly the most critical piece of a productive conference call. It’s convenient for the note-taker to be the one responsible for sending out the meeting recap email. This should include a really boiled down summary of the call notes. I strongly recommend assigning names to action items and making this font bold and red. People will clearly see what’s assigned to them. Give these action items a deadline. Finally, remind people of the date and time of the next call.
By doing each of these seven things, you are far more likely to run a productive conference call in which people will willingly participate. Best of all, you’ll actually get things done, rather than spinning your wheels and wasting hours of your work day!
When you participate in a conference call, how highly would you rate productivity on average? Share your favorite tips for making business conference calls more efficient and productive by leaving a comment below!