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Be a Smarter Conference Call Participant

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Conference calls. Not many people love them. And they aren’t exactly a great way to improve employee productivity. But there are ways to make them more bearable.

Here are some tips to help improve productivity while taking part in one of those dreaded conference calls.

Improve Productivity: Conference Calls

© Flickr user garaolaza

Call in Early

First, make sure that you dial in at least five minutes ahead of the call. That’s right, you want to be early. In fact, the best thing is to be the first person on the call.

Here’s the reason why: once someone else joins in, you can let them know that you are there, and then go on mute. The conversation goes like this:

Mike: (beep) This is Mike here for the call!
You: Hey Mike, it’s me Sara.
Mike: Hi Sara, how are you today? How is the weather down there?
You: Great! Fine. Hey listen Mike, I’m going to go on mute while I get a few things together on this end, okay?
Mike: Sure thing.

Now, if anyone else calls in, Mike will tell them that you are on mute. And you can wait to go off mute until the call begins in earnest.

Speaking of Mute

The mute feature of your phone is your greatest ally when you are on a conference call. It allows you to make as much noise as you need while listening in.

Now, that’s not an excuse to get lost in email or catching up on your reading. But rather, this is a great time to do fairly mundane work that will not distract you from listening. After all, one way to improve productivity is to be doing something else instead of wasting time! Ideas include:

  • Cleaning up your workspace
  • Taking out the trash
  • Making simple photocopies
  • Brewing some coffee
  • Opening (but not reading) your mail
  • Driving to an appointment (using a hands-free device)

Watch out for Nuance

Depending on which source you read, anywhere from 60% to 90% of our communication is non-verbal. That means there are all kinds of cues we receive from body language that are not visible on a conference call.

It’s no wonder we all agree that there must be ways to improve productivity on conference calls.

So what does the reality of nuance mean? When you’re listening, you can’t assume. And when you’re speaking, you should be as clear as possible.

For example:

  • Avoid the use of jargon, unless you’re sure everyone on the call knows what you mean.
  • Spell out any abbreviations or acronyms the first time you use them.
  • Ask clarifying questions. Restate what others have said in your own words.
Improve Productivity: Conference Calls

© Flickr user Sangy23

Driving Towards a Written Record

Like all meetings, conference calls have a tendency to produce a great deal of discussion but not much action. That’s why as a participant, you should encourage other members on the call to take notes and put ideas into shared documentation. At the very least, ask—and offer—to send emails summarizing key points.

Furthermore, consider using a live collaboration tool like Google Docs, an instant-messaging service, or your favorite webinar platform. This enables backchannel communication while the main discussion is going on over the phone.

And unlike the conference call, multiple people can participate in the chat at the same time. And multiple people can contribute the documentation all at once.

Use these tips to improve productivity when taking part in conference calls. And if you can have the meeting in person (or not at all), consider that instead. The best way to improve productivity is to have everyone fully engaged in the work that truly matters. Sometimes that means talking about what’s happened and what needs to be done. But much of the time, it means putting aside the conversation in favor of getting back to the work.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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