No-nonsense tips for running effective conference calls

TelephoneI am more comfortable having face-to-face meetings. I love the visual clues that you gain from body language. The furrow in someone’s brow or a tilted head of engagement can tell you whether you are falling flat or hitting a home run. In today’s busy world, however, face-to-face meetings aren’t always feasible. Conference calls are a cost-effective, time-saving alternative for bringing people together.

As I know from my own experiences, being the lead on conference calls can be nerve-wracking, particularly when you are new to the game. Inevitably, there will be uncomfortable moments that can run the gamut from awkward silences to people speaking over one another. Here are some tips to help you manage these issues like a pro and make your conference calls go smoothly:

  • Know who will be on the call. Make a list of all participants and their companies. Jot down some quick background notes about them so that you’ll know each person’s role for the call.
  • Prepare an agenda. In my opinion, the No. 1 way to stay on track during the call and avoid awkward silences is to have an agenda. Be sure to send the agenda to all meeting attendees before the call. A simple agenda will do wonders to help you keep the call on track and make sure that you touch on everything you need to cover. Some great basic agenda items include introductions, general roles of attendees, objectives, questions and next steps.
  • Prepare for small talk. Usually, someone will be late. While you’re waiting, put everyone at ease by making small talk. If you’re not able to do this on the fly, make a list of  neutral subjects you can rely on before the call.
  • Direct the call. For example, ask participants to introduce themselves one at a time, so you can avoid people talking over one another. If the participants stray from the agenda, gently steer them back on track.
  • Take detailed notes. Having notes to refer to during and after the call will show that you are an active listener.
  • Summarize next steps and set deadlines. At the end of the call, discuss the next steps. Recap any action items for participants and include deadlines while you’re still on the phone with them.
  • Write a call summary and send it to the participants. Be sure to include a list of action items. This document will be a record of the conversation and will come in handy if you need to clarify anything later. When sending the recap, ask that everyone review it and notify you if you missed anything or if they have changes.
  • Take action after the call. After the call,it’s important to follow through on all the action items that are assigned to you and meet your deadlines.

What makes your conference calls go smoothly? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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