Everything you need to know about conducting an effective conference call.
We have previously looked at the question, ‘What is a conference call?’ and established some of the reasons why this mode of conversation is overtaking face-to-face meetings. By saving money on airfares, rail fares and other costs associated with travelling to meetings, a telephone or video conference is an increasingly popular option for huge numbers of business people.
Businesses in the United States now use conference calls as a matter of course, even utilising the medium to disseminate their financial reports. And where the United States leads, the rest of the world is quick to follow suit. So if you haven’t yet attended a conference call, or indeed are still asking the question ‘What is a conference call?’, then keep reading to find out how to ensure the most successful outcomes using this medium.
We have also looked at some of the things people admit to doing during the course of a conference call, such as playing games and checking social media messages. However humorous some of these stories might seem to be, the fact remains that doing anything other than focusing on the matter in hand is considered undesirable behaviour, and could lead to formal warnings, or at the very least a reprimand, from business managers.
When considering ‘what is a conference call?’, it’s also important to stress the fact that video conferencing is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the more traditional phone conferencing system, which means that eating your lunch or catching up on your emails instantly becomes even less desirable behaviour!
So, since we have looked at undesirable conference call behaviour, and established what not to do, it’s time to address the subject of what makes a conference successful, and what is the correct etiquette for participants. Of course, every business set-up is different, so these are just guidelines which may require some adaptation to suit your particular circumstances, but they should give you a general idea as to how a conference call should work.
How do you set up a conference call?
One of the key mistakes that anyone attending a conference call can make, is failing to understand the technology. Conference call service providers are constantly improving and updating their services, so it pays to spend time getting acquainted with the technology, whether this is your first conference call or your hundredth.
Don’t waste precious time in front of colleagues and customers desperately searching for the ‘Mute’ button or trying to find out how to exit the call. An inability to use the technology makes you look unprofessional, so make a trial call well in advance of the planned conference to familiarise yourself with how everything works.
Make sure that all the members of your team who will be participating in the call are also up to speed with the technology. People working for you are representing you and the company, and must therefore project the appropriate image. So, if anyone in your office is still wondering ‘what is a conference call?’, then it’s probably time for an in-depth training exercise.
If possible, gather your team members together for a trial run at least a couple of days in advance of the planned conference call. That way you can not only familiarise yourselves with the technology, but can identify weak and strong points in your strategy or report, and make the necessary amendments.
A dry run can also pinpoint whether team members need to alter their delivery style, or even hand over to someone with a more natural manner. Some people automatically freeze when put on the spot, or made to speak in public, so it pays to discover beforehand if anyone is likely to ‘dry’ or suffer from excessive nerves on the day.
If you are using your smartphone rather than a landline, then make sure you test out the conference call app before assuming that it will work. Discovering that you need to adjust settings just as the call commences is a completely avoidable error. Once again, this is something which makes you look unprofessional in the public arena, so don’t ever make the mistake of assuming that it’ll all work fine on the day.
How to conduct a video conference call
You will need to make a few extra preparations if you are attending a video conference call, as you will also be on display – not just your voice. However, there’s no need to attack a video conference as though you are attending the Oscars award ceremony: the key is to look smart and tidy, as this conveys respect for other participants and self-belief in your own abilities.
Presenting a tidy and amenable appearance – and surroundings – goes a long way to creating that all-important air of professionalism. Check that anything on view behind you, or on your desk, is appropriate. The remains of your lunch and a pile of newspapers and magazines won’t impress anyone, and makes you look incapable of managing your own desk, let alone a business!
Leave yourself plenty of time before the conference call to make sure that you have all the documents, downloads, graphs and notes that you will require. Print out copies of anything that you may need to refer to, and make sure that you have notes to hand to keep you on track and prevent you from going off on a tangent. However, bear in mind that reading from notes over the phone never sounds sincere, so unless you have to read a report or article for the other participants, try to keep notes to ‘memory joggers’ as this makes your voice sound more natural.
If you are organising the conference call, make sure that all participants are sent copies of documents to which you will be referring well in advance.
It’s a good idea to ensure that you, and the members of your team, each have a glass of water to hand, together with a notepad and pens for taking notes, in addition to any laptops, tablets or smartphones. Devices can fail, but pen and paper can generally be relied upon in the event of technology failure.
It’s a sensible idea to arrange for the conference call to be recorded, depending on the purpose of the call. A physical recording removes any element of doubt if disagreements arise over aspects of the call at a later date, and can help to eliminate any confusion about what was said.
There is absolutely no conceivable reason for failing to log into a conference call at the appointed time, other than an emergency. Joining in late is considered to be extremely bad manners, so be ready to log in at least several seconds before the call is due to commence.
If, for some reason, you are unable to attend the conference call, then do make sure you notify the organiser as soon as possible beforehand. He or she can then arrange to carry on without your input, or reschedule for another time. Bear in mind however, that only the most exceptional reason will excuse you from a planned call.
Stay on topic
A conference call is not the time to catch up on family news or discuss social events. Many seasoned professionals recommend commencing the call with a round of introductions, but don’t use this as an excuse to fill everyone in on the latest addition to your family or your upcoming holiday. Keep your introduction brief and relevant, stating who you are, your position in the company and the skills or knowledge that you are bringing to the topic under discussion.
Whether you choose to make notes on your laptop, tablet, smartphone or on good old-fashioned paper, it’s a good idea to jot things down as they occur to you, to make sure that you don’t forget any important pieces of information. However, if you have taken the precaution of recording the call, you can refer back to the recording later on to double-check anything that you are unsure about.
Under pressure, we tend to tighten our throats, which gives us a dry mouth and makes us rush our words. If you are nervous about speaking in public then try taking some slow deep breaths before the call commences, to slow down your heart rate and calm your nerves. Some people like to stand whilst speaking on the phone, as it allows for a little movement, which can help with expression and a more natural way of speaking, so this is worth a try if you are feeling anxious.
By the same token, don’t be drawn into an argument. Heated discussions can quickly turn sour, so before you say something in the heat of the moment, take a deep breath and count to ten. It could make all the difference in ensuring a successful outcome to proceedings.