Conference Call Tips and Etiquette


In the professional world, most of us spend a varying amount of time on conference calls. This can be said of folks both in an office or remote location.  For those that can remember, meetings mainly use to be face-to-face in a meeting room. There was not a dial in number or participant code. People joined around a table or in an audience. Telecommuting was very limited not too long ago.

Technology has certainly driven a shift in how we do business now. More and more people in the workforce perform their jobs remotely. Meetings, for the most part, rely upon a toll-free number and the comforts of your desk at the office or at home. Being a remote employee myself, I wanted to contribute this week with some tips that I have learned regarding conference calls.

 Scheduling

 –          Software

  • Be aware of what scheduling program others use. One example is Microsoft Outlook. External recipients may not have the same program and therefore you increase your risk of someone not receiving important invite information

–          Time Zones

  • It is important to know if there are differences in the time zones that attendees currently reside. This is critical for arranging the meeting time.

–          Length

  • Try to keep meetings to an appropriate length. Estimate a realistic amount of time to set aside. This is beneficial to stay efficient and make the best of everyone’s schedule.

–          Coordinate

  • Actively coordinate times between standing meetings both for yourself, and attendees.  Keep in mind that it may not always be possible to accommodate 100% of the requested attendees. It is however good practice to accommodate most attendees, especially essential attendees.

–          Prepare

  • For more formal meetings, or meetings that have structured purpose, create an agenda both for yourself as a host and attendees.
  • An agenda helps hosts prepare for the meeting, as well as attendees prepare for relevant talking points as necessary. Share the agenda if necessary

–          Arrival

  • Try to join the call at least three (3) to five (5) minutes prior to the call start time. This will allow the host to begin the meeting on time. The exception to this would be when calls are scheduled back to back.

 

During the call

–          Noise

  • As an attendee, it is absolutely critical to not cause background noise during a call. My main rule: If I’m not talking, I’m on mute.
  • Some conferencing services allow the host to mute all attendees. That feature is excellent for webinars, as this is often used during the Galen Webcast Series.
  • Less formal calls don’t require this kind of mind set; therefore it is best to gauge the call to determine your actions.

–          Start

  • Meetings should begin on time as best as possible. Starting a meeting on time respects the efficiency of everyone’s schedule and optimizes the time allotted to tackle an agenda. Again, a barrier to accomplishing this occurs when meetings are frequently scheduled back-to-back.

–          Stick to the point

  • Meeting hosts should manage the call effectively. Stick to agenda items.
  • Prevent yourself and attendees to digress or side track from the topics at hand.  Meetings will often end too early or extend past a planned time if participants speak “off topic” or ineffectively discuss agenda items.

–          Listen

  • Active participation in a call is expected of attendees.
  • Try at every extent to not multitask during a call. You never know when the conversation might turn to you. Calls are not efficient when a participant is not paying attention; additionally the participant’s image is reflected poorly.
  • Be mindful of any language barriers. Diversity is an excellent aspect of the globalization business operations. Respect and pay closer attention to those you might not easily understand, both in dialect and grammar.

–          Parking Lot

  • Keep a “parking lot” list during the call for action items. This is something best done by the host or delegated to an attendee to maintain and share after the call.
  • Other participants should keep their own list as well, in case of personal action items. This way, you aren’t waiting for the list from someone else for your items.

–          Notes/Minutes

  • As similar to the parking lot list, someone should actively take minutes for more formal calls to share with the meeting participants. This helps solidify any items mentioned in the call and records for future reference.
  • For formal and non-formal calls, it is very effective to take notes for personal use for future reference.

–          End

  • Hosts and attendees that manage the time effectively often may finish early and return some time to the day.
  • Be aware of the time relative to the scheduled end time. Once it draws about five (5) minutes before the scheduled end time, determine the best next course of action. The action either could be one of three possibilities: Continue with all or a portion of the participants, reschedule the call to proceed with the conversation, or end the call as it stands. The latter being the least likely course of action.
  • If the meeting needs to be rescheduled, be mindful of the scheduling tips mentioned previously. Scheduling a new call can be done after the current call.
  • Clearly express any expectations prior to adjourning the call.
  • Thank everyone for their time!

 After the call

–          Wrap up

  • Send out any new meeting invites as soon as the prior call has ended.
  • If any minutes or notes were taken, be sure to share the documentation with the attendees (as necessary) as soon as possible.
  • Act upon any action items either for the parking lot list or assigned items as necessary. The sooner something is completed, the sooner it is off the list!
  • For more formal calls and as a host, be sure to send a follow up thank you note to participants for their time.

–          Feedback

  • For webcasts or formal calls, request feedback for continuous improvement.

 

Some of these tips do blend into the topic of time management. I think time management becomes more crucial before, during, and after conference calls. As we are more remote these days, more effort is needed to close any loops between meeting attendees. Some meetings are simpler and require less attention, whereas some meetings are more formal and require great effort.

The tips I shared are simply from personal experience. I know people with far greater experience have dedicated books to this topic. I thought some might benefit from a brief article regarding conference calls and some friendly advice.

I am absolutely positive there are people that agree, disagree, and have their own perspective or tips to add!  Please, share your thoughts, feedback, stories, and tips in terms of conference calls! I look forward to seeing this discussion continue and what others might have to contribute to this matter.

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2 Comments

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  1. 1
    Elise Brault

    These are great points Michael!

    I would add that if you are a participant who wishes to contribute to the conversation, it is important to announce yourself – your name and perhaps where you work (if the call has both internal and external people in attendance) – before you speak. Back in the ‘old’ days where people sat in meetings face to face, it was easy to see who had the floor. Now, I regularly find myself on calls wishing I knew who was speaking!

    Additionally, announcing your name before delving into the heart of your question or contribution is a great way to make sure that you have people’s attention and you can avoid the awkwardness I sometimes hear when participants start talking over one another.

  2. 2
    emily bennette

    My new job requires that I do conference calls weekly. However, I have never had to host or even be on a conference call before. So, I liked your tip about sticking to the points of the call. I tend to rant a little when I get nervous, so I am going to have to remind myself not to do that.

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