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  • Writer's pictureLorri

10 Tips for Taming Unruly Conference Calls

Recently, I had one of my newsletter subscribers, Sahar, reach out with a question:

'Hi Lorri, what is the best approach to participating in a conference call especially if they're too many participants on the call and all (most) want to weigh in their opinion?"

Thank you, Sahar, for your question! It’s a challenge I too have seen many times in my career, and have experienced first hand the example of an unwieldy teleconference call.

Mastering the art of the teleconference is particularly important if we are going to support a 'work from anywhere' policy at work. Teleconferences are a pillar of communications for distributed teams so it is absolutely essential that we get really good at them!

Here are 10 of the best tips I can think of for managing teleconference calls:

Have an Agenda

I do not attend meetings - any meetings - without an agenda. This goes for conference calls too. A conference call agenda should establish

-who is attending the meeting

-who is chairing the meeting

-rigid start and end times

-the topic of discussion/goal of the meeting

With the above points established before the call, expectations will be clear for all participants and conversations are more likely to stay on track.

Don't Show Up on Time, Show Up Early

Punctuality is essential on a conference call. Nobody likes having to backtrack and explain to latecomers what was just discussed in the past five minutes. Show you are courteous and respectful to all participants by being present at the designated start time.

Captain the Call

If you are chairing a teleconference call, take charge! Call your meeting to order on time, establish what is being discussed and steer the conversation back on track if it starts to wander. Most importantly, it's your job to make sure everyone's voice is heard. If Jerry has spoken up for the 37th time and is talking over others, tell him 'Hey Jerry, you've had a lot to say, but we need to hear from others in the group. Wanda, what's your opinion?' Don't be afraid to bang the gavel if things are getting out of order. You have limited time for your call, so take control of its direction!

Mute the Mic

Instruct participants to mute their mics when they aren't speaking. No one needs to hear barking dogs, the sound of the dishwasher running or background office noise. It can be very challenging to focus or hear what's being said if the ambient noise from everyone's environment is playing in the background. Make sure that people on mute have some way of signalling when they want to ask a question.

Pause, Then Speak

Before chiming in, take a two-second pause after the previous speaker finishes. In an in-person meeting, we can see when a speaker has finished by reading their body language cues. Not so in a teleconference call! Allowing for a short pause lets all participants know that it's ok for another person to speak up.

Manage the Flow of Questions

If you don't have a conference bridge provider with a moderator option, then agree to accept questions by chat only. Make sure lines are muted and give participants clear instructions at the beginning of the meeting to send in their questions as they think of them through chat. Using this strategy allows you to control when you answer questions (in the moment or wait to the end). If people have too many questions, then there’s a good chance that insufficient or unclear information was sent out in advance. Proactively pre-empt questions by sending out relevant materials in advance. Avoid putting yourself in the position where you have too many people with too many questions in the meeting, which will set you up to lose control.

Be Present. I Mean, Really Present

You wouldn't have your feet on the table, be scrolling through your phone or answering email during an in-person meeting, so don't do these things during a teleconference call. Focus, be present, be engaged and listen.

Have a Pre-Meeting Conversation with Employees Who Tend to Steamroll Conversation

If you know you have very vocal, loud or A-Type personality attending your teleconference, it’s a good idea to meet with them and let them ask their questions or vent in advance of the meeting. Not only will you reduce the likelihood of them steamrolling the meeting, but you’ll hopefully get them to become an advocate and supportive figure.

Mind Your Attendance Numbers

Watch how many people you invite to a call; if it's over 10 you may wish to do more of a town hall format where only the speaker can speak, hold questions until the end, and then the moderator instructions will allow them to cue their questions. The moderator will control which lines are blocked and unblocked and allow questions to flow in a very controlled manner. You don't want people talking over top of each other scrambling to ask questions; a more controlled flow is ideal.

Avoid the Chit-Chat

Conference calls aren't the best forums for casual conversation. Try and be net in your comments and stay on topic during your meeting. For remote or virtual teams who may need a little chit-chat to feel connected, build time into the end of your call specifically for casual conversation.

Do you have any other advice for managing unwieldy conference calls? Share them in the comments below! I would love to hear your best advice for making conference calls more manageable.

Do you have any other advice for managing unwieldy conference calls? Share them in the comments below! I would love to hear your best advice for making conference calls more manageable.

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