Sunday, January 12, 2014

Creating a successful Conference Call

I was inspired to share some tips from the perspective of a meeting organiser, that have helped me run successful conference calls.
Here are my top tips
  1. Master the technology.  This is vital if you are the presenter.  So many online meetings are hampered by a poor understanding of the basic tools of the trade, specifically the phone conference call system, and the web conferencing system.  In most conference calls it is easy to turn off the feature that announces the arrival/departure of a participant, however not many people do this.  This isn’t such a big deal when you have a small number of attendees, however with larger groups it can really damage the flow of the meeting when a beep announces all latecomers and/or early leavers.
  2. If the conference call is going to have quite a few presentations with people speaking at length for an exteneded period, it is always good to have all lines muted from the start of the call.  This cuts out unwanted background sound e.g. from a participant who is listening while on the train, or located in a noisy office.  It also is helpful for those people who work from home and might have the occassional crying baby or barking dog.
  3. Give yourself plenty of time to get mentally and practically prepared.  I like to down tools on all other tasks at least 20 minutes in advance of the meeting, start getting all my notes together, and double check the logistics.  For really important meetings I will even start the the phone and web conference 15 minutes early, and invite a colleague to ensure all the technology is working correctly e.g. can they see my content when I share my screen, and hear me clearly over the phone.
  4. If you are hosting a call in which you have a lot of detailed content, which requires your full attention, consider asking an experienced colleague to be the technical host during the meeting.  They can deal with all the mechanics of the meeting such as starting the web conference, switching between presenters, hosting the chat room, and most importantly dealing with any unexpected technical issues e.g. restarting the web conference if there is a system failure.  I find it easier to ad-lib for 5 minutes during an unexpected web conference failure, if I have a colleague who is dealing with the system restart.  Utilising a technical host is something that definitly should be considered for meetings hosted by executives and senior management, who may not have the time to master the technical tools.
  5. Involve your audience as you prepare your content in advance.  For the last 2 years I have been using Wikis to plan and prepare for all my online meetings.  I will create a Wiki with a draft agenda, and send it out to participants in advance to ask for their contribution and feedback on what they would like to see covered.  I’ve found this an excellent way to streamline content, and get items off the agenda that no-one is interested in.
  6. Make sure you structure the call with lots of opportunities for discussion and not just one way presenting.  By their nature some calls will involve lots of discussion.  However I’ve attended many calls in which the audience has had to listen to a lengthy presentation, with no opportunities for questions.  I always aim for at least 15 minutes of Q&A during every 60 minutes of a conference call.   It is extremely difficult to keep people’s attention during a phone call, so you must build in opportunities for reflective feedback from your audience.
  7. Limit your calls to 1 hour segments. If you need extra time then schedule appropriate breaks.  If my calls last longer than 60 minutes, I will usually create a 5 minute break for every extra 30 minutes of call time.   So if I know that the call will last 2 hours, I will usually schedule a 10 minute break after the 1 hour mark.
I hope you find these tips useful.  Are you already using some of these for your conference calls?  If so do they make a difference?  Do you have any other suggestions for making a conference call successful?  I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts in the comments.

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