We can’t always be in the same parcel of geography with everyone we need in a meeting. Technology has given us tools that allow us to connect cheaply for the spoken part of a meeting.
All too many people have difficulty with telephone conferences. Conducting and participating in one is different than a face-to-face meeting. The following tips and tricks can help:
All the rules of conducting good meetings apply.
Have a good facilitator.
Someone needs to focus on running the meeting and not on the content. Remind people of concerns and guidance at the start of the meeting. Periodically check for understanding and summarize the proceedings. Check in with each site to solicit input at points during the call. End the meeting with a recap and seek closure. Thank the participants.
Consider the clash of time zones before scheduling the call.
It’s way too easy to keep people really late or bring them to a call very early in their day.
Participants should identify themselves when speaking. Announce when someone arrives or departs.
How can people on the other end of the phone get attention and an opportunity to talk?
When you’re on the other end of a phone, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.
Provide all of the necessary dial-in information with the invitation to the meeting.1
Plan to use a landline telephone, if possible, to ensure good quality (and encourage participants to do the same).
Handheld phones encourage “puffing” into the microphone or not going on mute when not talking.
Know how to mute your connection and tell participants how to do the same.
Encourage each site to go on mute when not speaking. Just don’t use this as an excuse to have a distracting sidebar conversation.
People on either end who nervously tap the table or click a pen.
Sounds like thunder on the phone. Nobody will hear anything else.
Cell phones on stun.
NOT on the table with the phone. Take critical calls in the halls.1
Remind team members to speak clearly.
Speak one at a time. Speak to the microphone.
No sidebar conversations.
The group needs everybody’s wisdom. Also, the mumble gets picked up by the microphone.1
Don’t use gestures without verbalizing during the meeting.
People on the phone don’t know how far apart you might be holding your fingers or hands. They don’t know if you are doing a “nod, nod, wink, wink, know what I mean” gesture. Something as simple as asking for a “thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways” has to be verbally affirmed.
There may be language or cultural differences.
The subtleties of English language usage varies by location and user. For example, define acronyms and initialisms.
Don’t allow one person to dominate the meeting.
This is true of any meeting but can destroy a telephone conference.
1REFERENCE: Conducting Effective Meetings: macouinc.org/2016/06/03/conducting-effective-meetings/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Czerniak retired after a successful career that culminated in fifteen years of experience as an internal consultant and “change agent.” He is currently an Expert-in-Residence at the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator and a volunteer with the Troy Historic Village and Historical Society and the Michigan Floral Association.