Whether you’re in a small business or an international company, making sure your conference calls are productive is more of a priority than ever before. It’s always best to avoid those awkward meetings where the meeting organiser seems to be the only one talking and there’s very little collaboration. If you can keep a few key processes in mind, you can create a collaborative, creative and productive environment. Here are some helpful hints for conducting productive conference call meetings.
Have a clear agenda
A clear agenda is something all meetings benefit from having but it’s crucial when it comes to conference call meetings. In your meeting invitation, clearly state the purpose of the meeting and what you aim to achieve in it, then lay out a brief list of topics to touch on. You can organise each topic in a schedule with a time limit allocated to each point of discussion, so that you don’t run out of time before covering all your bases.
A schedule is a fantastic tool for stand-up meetings and WIPs when you need to cover a large number of subjects or have a lot of people give points but can’t take up too much time. You can give each person a minute to speak on their work, and if it looks like this will start an ongoing conversation, don’t be afraid to remind people to take it offline.
Use software to your advantage
Understanding which digital platform works best for your meeting is essential.
Microsoft Teams is great for organising your conference meetings, as they integrate directly into calendars like Microsoft Outlook, allowing you to invite participants through Outlook with a direct link to the Teams meeting.
Teams also has a helpful ‘raise hand’ function, to indicate you’d like to speak next, or even the chat window. These kinds of functions are really handy, but non-obstructive so they don’t interrupt the speaker.
Skype also has a lot of flexible functionality, including the new Meet Now function, which lets you join a meeting using a link, without being required to make an account.
Zoom can be excellent not only for meetings, but for hosting webinars – which is when its intuitive video recording function comes in handy. This can be great for training or briefing meetings so that people can refer back at any time.
Confirm the meeting attendees
It’s so important to confirm your meeting attendees beforehand. Firstly, because you need to know who has confirmed, so that you aren’t waiting around for people who might not show up. Secondly, because it gives everyone else in the meeting an idea of who will be coming so everyone can properly prepare.
You can organise it easily through Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar so that all the participants know in advance who is coming, what will be discussed and the duration of the call.
Also make sure that you introduce yourself and at the beginning of the meeting, to give everyone context for who is participating, and also to make everyone feel welcome to speak.
Know how to be a pro facilitator
If you’re the meeting facilitator, you need to ensure your meeting doesn’t become an online lecture, and a lot of that comes down to knowing when you want to encourage people to speak, and when you need to reel things in and drive the meeting forward.
There’s a human element removed from webcam meetings – a sort of warmth that can’t be replicated on screen or phone. Sometimes people aren’t on camera, sometimes their microphones are muted – so speaking up can feel a little more daunting than in a face-to-face meeting.
You can encourage people to talk by asking them to respond directly and saying that you value their input. Ask people open-ended questions to start turning the gears for conversation and when they introduce new ideas, engage with them directly and comment on the positives first so that people feel comfortable sharing ideas.
Remember meeting etiquette
The key to a great conference call is making the meeting run as smooth as possible, and that means knowing how to conduct yourself over a digital medium.
If you’re not speaking, mute your microphone to prevent noise spilling in, but also be aware of your surroundings when you do speak. It’s also great to address the person you are speaking to by name before you start, and what you will be touching on.
Try making the connection easy for people. You can do this by prefacing your point with “to your earlier point on…”, or “building on what you just said…”. Try to keep everything relevant and connected.
Sharing your screen is a great way to help your team visualise when you are taking them through designs, user experience or anything else that entails a visual element. Some software such as Microsoft Teams even lets people in the meeting highlight part of the screen as you talk them through, making the entire effort feel collaborate and open.
Being on camera adds a sense of familiarity to your meeting. If you can be on camera and encourage your team to be on camera as well, you have a wealth of visual cues and warmth you can offer to bring the meeting to life. It brings back some of what gets lost over the digital medium. Something as simple as nodding your head to show someone you are listening and acknowledge their points can help.
Clarify key actions and next steps
Make sure that at the end of the meeting you clarify what has been achieved in the meeting, and make sure that everyone properly understands the actions they will be taking as a result.
It’s especially useful to send out the next steps via email after every meeting, along with the deadline agreed for each deliverable. This will make sure everybody has a record of what will happen next and what responsibilities fall on them.