Telephone conference calls are a low cost meeting alternative for teams located in different places. They are great for routine status reports and for short-term, problem solving meetings, but not if you follow your instincts to just grab the phone and start talking! Conference calls are not as easy as one-on-one phone conversations, so follow these tips or ground rules for effective conference calls:
Know Your Phone. Whether you are using your office phone, cellular or conference phone, know how to use it, mute it, and connect to others without disconnecting.
Use a Moderator. One person (typically the person who initiated the call) should be the moderator. Start with a “roll call” of attendees and their location so that everyone knows who is on the line and announce when new members join in. Give a short, precise overview of the purpose and goal of the call, followed by a simple, clear agenda. Ask the participants to follow the agenda and conference call ground rules.
Keep Up the Pace. Most participants usually speak very slowly, careful of what they say and how they say it. But the average person is able to decode verbal information four to five times faster than the average speaking rate. This makes for a very long, tedious meeting! The moderator should set the tone of the conference call by speaking at a regular rate with good inflection and intensity. Other participants will then follow the leader in style and rate. The moderator should also ask the participants to limit their contributions to a reasonable length (for example one or one and one-half minutes) and allow questions for clarification.
Manage Voice Traffic. The more people you have on the line, the greater the potential for overload and domination of a few people. Limit the number of people involved in the conference call to team members and one or two scheduled speakers. Ask the participants to state their names and location each time they speak. Recognize that one individual at one location will have more “air time” than several people huddled around a speaker phone at another location. If possible, questions should be directed to specific individuals. For example, “John, will you share your perspective on this issue?” or “Mary, could you please clarify that issue?” The moderator may serve as a “gatekeeper” to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate.
Take a Poll. At critical moments in the meeting, poll the participants for their input. Call out each name and ask for their opinion, comment, or vote. Recognize that this will take time, especially for larger groups, but is worthwhile for critical issues where the team must make a decision to move forward.
Use Handouts. Where possible, email information to be used during the conference call. Quantifiable data such as sales forecasts, trend charts, and other descriptive data is helpful to have prior to the meeting so that everyone is looking at and commenting on the same information.
Phone conference calls can save time, travel costs, energy and hassle–especially if the team follows these basic ground rules to enhance the effectiveness of your next conference call.