Monday, April 13, 2009

Conference Calls

Do you like conference calls? Personally I hate them. I much prefer meeting face-to-face meetings or if that's impossible I like to use a webcam or videolink. The worst case scenario is when dialing in to a meeting with all of the other attendees in a room together with only you on the 'phone. It is so hard to stay engaged in a conversation without visual and physical cues as feedback. And if you are not engaged then what is the point of joining the meeting at all? More often than not it feels as if the 'phone participants have been invited to make sure they didn't feel they were left out.

Love them or hate them, they seem to have become unavoidable and in the current climate I suppose there will be even more. Timely then for some top tips on how to stop worrying and love the conference call. There is plenty of etiquette-type help out there but Sasha has some great advice which Seth Godin picked up on and added his own. Here's a summary of their top tips and some of my own:

  • Create an “in the room” role. Assign someone to be the voice of the sentiment “in the room,” explaining to people on the phone what’s going on. This person fills in the silences with comments like, “Yes, everyone agrees,” or “Angela, you look like you’re not convinced by that last remark, can you tell us what’s on your mind?”
  • Create a norm that when an important question comes up, you’ll go around the horn and ask everyone to say something
  • Have people who are not “in the room” lead the call. Keeps them engaged and validates that just because they’re on the phone doesn’t mean they are less important
  • Never equate silence with agreement. It’s bad enough to do this in person. Worse still on the phone.
  • Keep calls short. More than 30 minutes on the phone and you’ve probably lost the person dialing in.
  • Keep groups small. Less than 4 is ideal, but 6 or fewer seems to work.
  • Calls should be accompanied by an online chat room with text chat in parallel with a voice conference call. It helps participation and breaks the "silence"
  • If you have to present while on the 'phone, invest in a wireless headset and stand up while presenting (try it! It really works!)
  • If most of the participants are on the 'phone, have everyone dial in separately from their workplace even if some could gather in a room together - it helps keep a "room" from dominating the call
  • Play "just three words" game - ask for feedback or comments from everyone using just three words - the antidote to long, drawn out 'phone comments
  • And one last suggestion: if you’re asking people to call in to a conference call at an inhumane time (very early or very late), be religious about starting the call on time. It’s the easiest way to show respect for people who aren’t in the room

What are your top tips for conference calls?

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