Have you seen the funny YouTube video “A Conference Call In Real Life?” With more than 5 million views at the time I write this, clearly this spoof of common conference call missteps is hitting a nerve among businesspeople. To ensure your next conference call is focused, and not a fiasco, follow these steps:
- Treat a conference call like an in-person meeting. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it requires any less organization. Choose a time that works for everyone, being sensitive to time zones. Send an invitation and get confirmation from recipients (if no one responds, maybe your invitation didn’t work, so doublecheck). Send a reminder the day before for good measure.
- Be prepared. Preparation is even more important in the virtual world than in real life. If people need to review data, make sure you send it to them in plenty of time for them to prepare. Create an agenda and let everyone know what you’ll be discussing.
- Take charge. Dial into the call early to make sure everything is working. As the meeting organizer, you need to keep the call on track while also ensuring everyone has a chance to speak. Make sure everyone introduces him- or herself at the beginning of the call, as well as throughout the call if there are people who don’t know each other well enough to recognize voices. Periodically check in with those who aren’t speaking up—they may find it difficult to interrupt others, so make sure their opinions are heard.
- Learn your conference calling tools and use them. Become familiar with the tools your conference calling system offers, such as the ability to record calls, mute voices or share visuals and data online. The last thing you want is to learn “on the spot” while on a conference call with a big client!
- Keep it short. With most participants sitting at their desks in front of their computers, it’s easy for them to get bored and start surfing the web or checking email during your conference call. Keep it moving quickly and try to wrap it up in 30 minutes at most so people stay focused.
- Follow up. End the call with action items so everyone knows what their role is. Send a quick follow-up email the same day summing up what was discussed, conclusions, next steps and deadlines. This should go to all invitees (even those who couldn’t attend) so everyone is kept in the loop.