Gone are the days when everyone needed to be shepherded into the board room for a meeting. Nowadays, it's easier to just jump on a conference call. However, there are some pitfalls to avoid if you want your call to be succesful. Use our handy tips to get ahead.
Every meeting needs a leader and, generally, the person who sends out the invitations will control the agenda and the guest list, and manage the call. Introductions are key and it’s the leader’s job to keep everyone in the loop.
Ask the right people
Don’t behave like a teenager throwing a party. Inviting everyone in your address book is pointless. People swamp inboxes with names of those who might be interested, but ask yourself what the individuals will gain or contribute from taking part. Similarly, if you’re invited to join a call that you don’t think is relevant, it’s fine to decline.
Start to finish
Just as you would in a face-to-face meeting, it’s good practice to formally open and close a call. There’s nothing worse than joining a call on time or a minute late only to find that participants are already discussing the topic. Equally, make an early exit and you may miss that crucial ‘and we need it first thing tomorrow’ postscript. The leader should make a point of summing up – recapping any actions that need to be taken, agreeing the date of the next meeting – and then finish with a ‘Thank you’. Not only is it polite, but it also signals a natural end to the call.
It’s great that everyone is getting a handle on the conference call facility, but remember that this is an invitation-only event. Providing colleagues with a list detailing when numbers are in use avoids the embarrassment of having the accounts team inadvertently barge in on your call. Keeping your dial-in password private should be common practice.
The more organised the call, the more professional you’ll look. The day before, take time to email any relevant documents or presentations to fellow callers so they can print them out or have them open on their screen. There’s nothing more irritating than listening to someone scuffling through a tower of unfiled papers in search of the right one. Stay on the ball and everyone will thank you for it.
Not everyone will recognise your voice so, unless you want to remain incognito, introduce yourself before you speak for the first time. Your voice may be familiar to your nearest and dearest, but don’t count on business colleagues knowing what you sound like on the phone. Plus, if you’re the one who comes up with the golden idea, you’ll want everyone to know your name.
Get comfortable with the fact that you’ll be talking in front of a group without receiving any visual cues or feedback. It’s not unusual to feel out of your comfort zone on a conference call, but learn to manage your fears. Yes, people will talk over one another if someone’s not managing the call, but learn to use your voice and not your eyes. This is no place to be shy and retiring. If you want a response, ask for it.
Be aware of what’s going on in the background. You may think no one will notice the hum of the washing machine or a colleague’s high-pitched laughter but think of your phone as an amplifier. Calling from an open-plan office can sound like you’re calling from a nightclub so make friends with the mute button. Also, think about the inadvertent noises you may make. Mouthing to your colleague across the desk may make more noise than you think. As for coughing or sniffing, if you feel a fluey fit coming on, be polite and drop out of the call until you’ve recovered.
On a similar note, you might think you’re being ultra-efficient by catching up on your to-do list or finishing your lunch, but most people would rather not listen to you fire off an email or slurp your spaghetti. Polish off your meal or hit ‘send’ before you dial in, or use the mute button. And if you need to take notes, use the old-fashioned method – pen and paper.
Inevitably there will be times when it’s hard to stay focused but if you’ve been invited to a call there’s usually a reason why. Conference calls should be about open discussion, not monologues, so avoid the ‘information dump’ where one person speaks for the entire length of the call. Plan what you need to communicate before you pick up the phone and if it’s better noted in an email, don’t waste everyone’s time with a conference call.