No doubt you’ve been through many conference calls, and you know the ropes. You’ve probably come to accept the limitations and issues as inevitable. Calls often run behind schedule, people stop paying attention in the first five minutes, some participants sound really loud while others sound too far away, and someone always forgets to turn off their cell phone before beginning, so halfway through the call, you get to enjoy the latest funny ringtone blaring in your ear.
If you’re running the call, you want to minimize the distractions and maximize effectiveness. Your meetings have purpose, after all! That’s why we gave you 5 Steps for Maintaining Focus During an Audio Conference in last week’s blog post. This week, we go deeper with these seven little-known techniques to shake up your conference call routine and maximize effectiveness.
1 – Skip the Formalities
When you introduce speakers, do so quickly and without fanfare. Rambling introductions will not only take up valuable time, they’ll also encourage members of the conference to check out mentally until the real business begins. Those who lost interest during the introductions might never re-engage, and your meeting could go nowhere.
2 – Hold a Shorter Meeting
The idea that you can get more done in twenty minutes than you can in sixty might seem ludicrous. Consider, however, the many ways you might trim your presentation if you had one-third of the time. When you present information more concisely, attendees are more likely to retain that information. Try scheduling only twenty minutes for the next conference call and watch how everyone focuses in order to meet the time limit.
3 – Be Mindful of Virtual Participants
Virtual participants should be a part of a meeting as well. Unfortunately, the conference phone is often placed in the middle of the table, so it picks up every noise and side conversation in the room and forces virtual participants to request information be repeated. Try setting the phone in a different place, close to the primary speaker, so remote listeners can hear more easily.
Consciously include remote participants – repeat questions and comments you suspect they might have missed without their asking, direct questions to them. And remind your in-the-room participants to not only avoid unnecessary noises and sidebar conversations, but to speak up in order to be clearly heard by all attendees, both near and far. It’s also wise to test the lines in advance of the call to ensure a clear connection can be achieved.
4 – Invite Fewer Participants
The more people involved during a conference, the more likely everyone is to get distracted. Inc. passes on this advice from Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon, the authors of Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change: consider other ways to get input from “borderline” attendees, like having them fill out a questionnaire, instead of having them attend. That helps you keep the attendance list short and helps them stay productive in other tasks.
5 – Limit White Noise
Distractions during phone conferences aren’t always immediately noticeable to the person leading the meeting. The clacking of keys, clicking of pens, and squeaks of chairs creaking back and forth will all distract listeners. Keep an ear out for these small irritants and request your participants to stop the distracting behavior in as subtle a manner as possible. Consider, too, that when it comes to conference calls, the noise might be coming from any connected line, so it’s helpful to have the ability to mute a line when needed.
6 – Have Speakers Announce Themselves
It’s hard to believe, but you can also lose a lot of attention during a phone conference just trying to figure out who’s talking. Don’t force your participants to play the guessing game. Some conferencing systems include a feature to identify who is speaking so you can announce them as you open their line. In open calls, ask participants to introduce themselves every time they speak (whether in person or on the line). “This is John…” goes a long way to keeping participants’ attention on the topic instead of forcing them to try to identify the speaker.
7 – Record On-the-Fly
At any moment in your conference call, someone could come up with a brilliant idea or raise a concern you’ve never considered. Additionally, key players could be missing from your call, and you’ll want to fill them in on the details. Instant recording – which can be as easy as pressing *2 on the line – could make retaining all these details simple. With Adigo’s On-the-Fly recording feature, the recorded call can be downloaded immediately, so you can use it to easily capture notes on the ideas and discussions while the call is fresh in your mind or send the recording out to others right away.
Conference call issues are not inevitable, nor do you have to simply accept them. You can improve the quality of your calls by keeping your participants very focused, attending to the details of common interactions, and using conferencing technology that helps you be more productive.
Did you find these suggestions unusual? Do you have some even more unusual recommendations? We’d love to hear them in the comments!