If you have worked remotely for any given time, you know what its like to be on a conference call. There is a good chance that the participants will misplace the dial-in information, join late, have trouble with their audio or video and have a spotty connection making it hard to communicate.
I remember participating in a conference call with a business intelligence startup that wanted to sell us their shiny new app. I agreed to sit through a demo and was given an email with a calendar invite to join the call. Our Operations Manager and I join the call and the sales rep from the startup starts the call by apologizing that his colleague that was supposed to demo the app was running late. (So much for first impressions). The sales rep makes small talk with me. You know, the typical “How’s the weather in your area?” and begins to show me a pre-recorded video of the app. He must have been in full panic mode because it was the same video I had already seen in prior communication with him over email. Meanwhile, I’m looking at the clock trying to figure out how long this call will go and whether we’ll actually cover anything tangible in this call.
Finally, his colleague joins the call 10 minutes later, and they begin to demo the app. Immediately, they start to have technical difficulties. The app wasn’t loading, their connection was spotty, and the app continued to crash. The sales rep asks me to wait while they relocate to a different office and start over. They return, but to my surprise, only 1 of the two guys return to the call. The first sales rep tells me that his business partner had another call to jump onto. And as you could imagine as a participant, my confidence in the startup’s ability to deliver wasn’t high. In the end, the call was one big mess that ultimately cost this startup a potential sale.
Here are 5 tips to make your conference calls run seamlessly so that you can avoid the embarrassment that this startup went through:
1. Plan & test before the call.
Technical issues are probably the most common problems we all experience on calls. If you are the organizer, it is a good idea to use a service that does not require an app or plugin to be installed. UberConference and Zoom are popular solutions that require minimal setup. I do not recommend using GoToMeeting and WebEx. In my experience, these conference tools always seem to forget the audio settings and require an update. And like most people, we ignore the notice to update the app until the moment we have to jump on a conference call.
It may seem like overkill, but it is a good idea to have a one-on-one call with each participant well-before the group discussion to confirm that the app is setup properly and that their connection is strong enough to join the call. This point is especially important if you’re planning to pitch to a client.
Somtimes multiple participants may join in the same room while other participants are dialing in remotely. Make sure the microphone is centrally located near each person in the room.
Another big offender is when participants have background noise, feedback and audio issues. Encourage the participants when planning the meeting to find a quiet place with a reliable internet connection. This will help participants to join without the embarrassment of having technical difficulties with microphones, cameras pointed in unflattering angles and spotty call quality.
2. Send an agenda in the invitation.
Everyone wants to know what to expect. When people join late, very often its because the personal value of the call is unclear. No one wants to join a meeting without knowing how they can clearly contribute. In your email invite, I strongly recommend you state the vision of the meeting, the goals for the call, and give people an idea of how each of them can specifically contribute.
In the invitation be sure to set clear parameters on how long the call will be and stick to it. Give a 2 minute grace period before starting the agenda. Repeat the purpose of the call when the call starts and all participants have joined.
Identify who will lead the topics of discussion and recap the issue goal after each point is made.
3. Specifically, solicit feedback by calling directly on an individual by name.
Many people don’t want to speak up because they fear sounding uninformed. You can reduce anxiety by leading the call in a way that encourages discussion. For example after describing the issue or question, specifically ask an individual to provide feedback based on their role, and their area of expertise. This will avoid the awkward silence you receive after speaking.
If everyone on the call doesn’t have a specific role or reason to contribute, they will zone out. If you’re having a hard time assigning roles to each person on the call, consider reducing the number of participants on the call to only the CORE people that will benefit the most from the call.
4. End each call with clearly assigned tasks for each participant.
Set your expectations and have the participant(s) provide any questions or concerns around the assigned task. The last thing you want is to assign a task after the call and see no progress because there were unanswered questions or clarification around what exactly needed to be done.
5. Send a follow-up email with a recap.
It is important to recap what was discussed in the call with the task assignments via email. Most participants forget what was discussed almost immediately after a call is over.
Another way to make sure things continue to move forward is to conduct the end of the call like a round-robin standup meeting. Assign tasks and takeaways to each participant in a project management app like Trello or Asana.
When you put into practice these 5 tips, I promise you the next conference call you lead will be a breeze.
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