Business meetings are often derailed by poor preparation, bad behavior or dismal time management. Add in the unique pitfalls associated with today’s virtual meetings, and the hazards are compounded. Meeting via conference call is even more likely to run aground with the possibilities of inattention, talking over one another and an inability to read body language.
Keeping conference call meeting participants focused and on track takes a special set of ground rules. Incorporate these essential components to ensure more productive conference call meetings.
Share an Agenda
All meetings need an agenda that includes a realistic schedule. It should be well crafted with attention to what the full group needs to discuss. If the agenda includes items involving only a small contingent of the group, push these to the end so others can get off the call. Email the agenda to participants at least one full day before the meeting so they can review it and prepare, if needed.
In addition to a meeting start time, establish a call-in/log-in time a few minutes earlier. Usually people try to get on at the last minute, then can’t find the number, have an issue with their computer and so on. Make it an unusual call-in time, such as 9:02 a.m. Coming up with weird times causes people to remember and makes it more likely they’ll join the call on time. Start exactly on time whether or not “the right” people are on.
Establish Who’s on the Call
It’s difficult to determine who is participating on the call. The facilitator can conduct a quick roll call to allow everyone a chance to hear who’s present (and not simply lurking).
Have a Group “Hello” as the Meeting Begins
Invite everyone to say hello simultaneously before any decide to mute themselves. This will give people the feeling of being in a virtual room together.
Make Use of the Mute Button
There’s nothing more annoying being subjected to other call participants’ background noise. If you’re on the call while dropping your child off at a noisy playground, are heating up your lunch in the microwave, or dealing with your barking dog, make sure you’ve hit your mute button and aren’t disrupting the call.
Invite Each Participant to Speak
It’s easy to lose the give-and-take of in-person conversation on a conference call. People often jump in at once and talk over each other, or they’re unsure when to jump in and hold back even though they have an idea to offer. Establish a speaking order at the beginning of the call and go around in circular order. This guarantees you will get everyone’s feedback when consensus is sought or ideas discussed. With a large group, you may need to limit response times.
Take Meeting Notes and Distribute to the Full Group
Designate someone to record the important points from the conversation. Before moving on to the next agenda item, the facilitator should summarize what points were addressed, decisions made and action items needed for follow-through. After the call, the note-taker should email the notes to all participants, and those in the group who weren’t able to join the call.
Sign Off as a Group
At the end of the call, ask everyone to un-mute and say goodbye together. Again, a little cacophony gives people the feeling that they’ve been together—even if it’s virtually.