You're Doing It Wrong: Conference Call Hacks / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Conference calls, whether video or audio, are a business mainstay. They can also easily deteriorate into a time-wasting exercise.

Teleconferencing—whether with video or audio—is an established business mainstay to cost-effectively hold team meetings across multiple locations.

At one time, it involved special equipment and a dedicated conference room, but today all you need is a phone and laptop. More often than not you don’t even need the phone. Yet, as common a practice as teleconferecing is, we don’t always use it right.

Here are some hacks to achieve more effective conference calls.

Related Article: 5 Web Conferencing Tools You Can Actually Afford

Introduce Everyone on Your Conference Call

Introducing shouldn’t be, “let’s go around and have everyone give us their name and job role” (or worse, give a short personal story). Some conferencing software, such as Uberconference, allows participants to enter basic photo and contact information for attendee reference.

You can also do this manually by looking up and displaying the LinkedIn profiles of all meeting participants.For audio-only conferencing, this lets you put a face to a voice and can help you follow a discussion better, almost as if you were actually talking to someone face-to-face.

Record the Meeting With Teleconferencing Software

Most conferencing technology allows you to record the meeting and fast forward through it to replay just what you want to review. IT Business Edge points out several advantages of this technology:

  • The meeting can be shared with others who weren’t able to attend.
  • Recordings can be used for training or to review meeting outcomes.
  • You don’t have to take notes, as the recording documents the meeting for you. Consequently, you can focus on the meeting, rather than taking notes on the meeting.
  • Like email, it’s a convenient CYA to settle a dispute. People can have different recollections of who said what during a meeting, and recordings report what was actually said.

Disable the Mute Button on Conference Calls

When people are on mute, it usually means they are doing something else. As the Harvard Business Review notes, mute tends to discourage spontaneous discussion. Of course, if people are in noisy environments, such as an airport, then mute is necessary. But that should be the exception rather than the rule. For those who are worried their dog might start barking, it’s up to them to find a quiet space where no one can hear the dog, or get someone to walk the dog during the call.

Related Article: Just Say No: 5 Mistakes That Are Shattering Your Productivity

Maintain Participant Attention to the Call

How many times have you heard this from someone during a conference call (or, worse, said it yourself): “Sorry, I was looking at an email that just came in, could you repeat the question?” Everyone likes to think they can multitask. But if you could truly multitask, you’d never be embarrassed to have to ask this sort of question.

In fact, it’s gotten to the point where nobody is much embarrassed by this because everyone is multitasking and, well, not paying full attention. As the Productivity Pro points out, as good as you might think you are at multitasking, the fact is that the human mind really is not capable of reading email and listening to someone at the same time, despite technological advances.

In a face-to-face meeting you can ask people to turn off their devices. In a teleconference, they need the device to participate, so it’s only natural that they get easily distracted by an email or try to catch up on their work during a meeting. Here are some hints from CIO to keep conference attendees focused:

  • Create an agenda so everyone can see what is going to be covered and when.
  • Break every 10 or 15 minutes to check in with participants and see if there are any questions. If applicable, have them do something like respond to a poll, a feature available on most conferencing software, or perform an exercise related to the topic. Example: “Now it’s time to play Jeopardy. I’m going to pick John, Jane and Judy to play. The answer is profitability. What’s the question?
  • Instead of just asking if anyone has questions, call on specific individuals at logical break points and ask if they have any comments. Not knowing if and when it’s their turn to talk (and not wanting to seem unengaged if caught being, well, unengaged) tends to keep people more attentive.

Of course, the best way to keep everyone’s attention is…

Get To the Point, Get It Done and Move On

As Forbes points out, your meeting must:

  • Have clear objectives;
  • Involve only those people who are essential to address the objectives;
  • Start on time and end on time; and
  • Allow sufficient time to thoroughly attend to the topic, not a second more. Rule of thumb: take as much time as you think you need, and cut it in half. Meetings are like accordions, they expand to accommodate however much time you allow for them. Squeeze it tighter and you’ll get just as much done, faster.

The reason everyone complains about meetings is they get in the way of working. Teleconferencing technology makes it easy to hold a meeting, and saves travel time and expense. But just because it’s easy to hold a meeting doesn’t mean you have to hold a meeting. If you must hold a meeting, hold one that ends with everyone thinking they’ve actually accomplished something.

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