6 Ways to Run an Effective Conference Call

Conference calls are a fact of life. When a conference call goes well, it scores points for convenience and efficiency. But when a conference call goes off the rails, it’s a waste of time and resources. It’s up to the person who initiates the call to understand how to have a good team meeting, and that’s the crux of the problem. I don’t believe most people know how to lead conference calls. Here are some tips that will make a world of difference when your time to shine comes:

1. Share an agenda in advance of the call.

On that agenda, include anything that people should know. For example, is it a phone call or a video call? Who will be on the call? What is the purpose of the call? How long will it last? What is the dial-in information? 

2. Master the technology. 

Whether you’re using a dial-in number, video service, or calling from a device in the conference room, make sure you know how to use it. We suggest enhancing the call with other tech tools, such as support polling, file sharing, and chat options. These enhancements will help improve the quality of discussion, keep people on track, and minimize distracting temptations. Anything you can do to augment the effectiveness of the communication will benefit the meeting.

3. Send a notification, call in early and take control right away. 

Whoever’s leading the call should schedule a notification to go out to participants 15 minutes before the meeting begins, so that the dial-in info is at their fingertips. The leader should make sure to be dialed in at least two minutes ahead of time so that they can set the tone from the start—and avoid any small talk as people call in. If people start chit-chatting from the beginning, the other attendees will beep in, and an unorganized cluster of unnecessary conversations will start. 

Instead, each time a new person beeps in, the leader should ask their name, thank them for being there and let them know that the meeting will begin in two minutes. When it’s time for the meeting to start, the leader should go down the list of names and call each of them and then ask if anyone else has joined the call. That’ll give any latecomers a chance to introduce themselves, without causing any disruption.

4. Set the ground rules. 

Before the meeting progresses, it can be helpful to set ground rules. For example, I empower participants in calls to chime in—literally—if someone is rambling or gets off-topic. I tell them to speak up if we get off-topic. Usually, attendees hesitate to speak up verbally because we’ve all been taught it’s rude to interrupt. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what you should be doing most of the time—interrupting to get things back on track. 

I used to run meetings with my tech lead, and he was great at bringing the conversation back to focus. We don’t want others to take it personally if we ask them to curtail their comments and move on. It’s important to explain this process and empower team members to redirect the conversation when needed without being inhibited by those natural fears. When I set the ground rules, I ask everyone on the call to say their name each time they speak and to put their phone on mute to eliminate distracting noises.

5. If a connection is bad, say something. 

When someone has a staticky connection, is in a loud environment, or their phone keeps cutting out, it’s frustrating and annoying for everyone on the call. It’s uncomfortable for someone to do this, but when someone has a bad connection, you do need to ask them to call back in after fixing the issue. Situations like these are distracting and waste the time of everyone on the call.

6. Be respectful of people’s time. 

If a person isn’t needed for the entire call, I make sure to allow them to participate in the beginning and then hop off when their portion is done. Let’s face it! Most people hate meetings. One reason for this is that too often participants end up wasting a lot of time, either because the meeting wasn’t well-run or because they were only needed for a tiny portion, if that. It’s important to be respectful of people’s time by structuring meetings that engage everyone or allowing them to just participate in their relevant portion, and then just drop off. It isn’t always possible or practical, but that should be the goal. 

Mary Abbajay, the author of Managing Up, has said that calls should be limited to an hour. If it seems like it’s going to run longer, Travis and I suggest scheduling two calls rather than one long one.

Author: Emma Rainville

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