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Stop the Agony! 5 Tips For Better Conference Calls

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With a title like the one on this post, I’m certain there isn’t much introduction needed about today’s leading subject. So let’s get to the heart of the matter–how can we make conference calls better?

Despite the many fantastic benefits we reap from the telephone, it is also one of the greatest productivity killers in business. Robby Slaughter, a principal of AccelaWork and leading productivity expert, shares 5 tips for better conference calls with the patrons of the Remote Leadership Institute. Reprinted below are his tips that can change the way in which conference calls can be effectively utilized and conducted in business.

TIP #1 –Establish Ground Rules

Every call ought to conform to upfront agreements about how the calls should operate. You can make these for yourself, but they should be designed to benefit everyone and communicated to every person you work with.

For example, ground rules might include that conference call invitations must include an agenda, or that invited parties should only reply if they cannot make it. Some companies have a rule that conference calls cannot exceed one hour except for emergencies, or that the host of the call has a special responsibility for follow-up. Another common rule is that if the organizer does not arrive within three minutes of the start time, the call is cancelled.

TIP #2 – Starting On Time

Given the prevalence of cellphones and the ability to plan our schedules, there’s practically no excuse for arriving late to a conference call. A good practice is to agree that the call will start at exactly three minutes after the start time, and to send an email to all parties at the start time as a reminder.

In any case, waiting around for people can be tremendously frustrating. Another tip: announce, “I’m going on mute, but I will be listening for when we start.”

conference call

© Flickr user jonasclemens

TIP #3 – Send Out an Agenda

A meeting without an agenda is sure to wander into a variety of random topics, many of which won’t be helpful. When you schedule the conference call, also tell people what will be discussed and consider including time stamps. Use this as a reminder to keep things moving along.

TIP #4 – Intros and Outros

When a meeting is in person, it’s easy to tell who is speaking. But on a conference call, it can be hard to identify voices. At the top of the agenda, the organizer should name everyone on the call and explain their role in the meeting. If the person leading can’t say anything other than “they are here to listen,” that’s a good sign this person doesn’t need to be a part of this call, and can read the minutes later.

Likewise, each time a person speaks up they should identify themselves. “This is Bob; I agree, but I’m also thinking…” Using this approach is especially helpful for calls with more than five people, as well as when the participants are not well-acquainted.

Finally, consider ending any thoughts with a technique borrowed from radio operators: the word “over.” This way, people know you’re done speaking and can respond if needed.

TIP #5 – Attendance and Wrap-Ups

At the top of the call, the organizer should take attendance and have each person say hello. This proves their line is working and allows them to be identified by their own unique voice. It also shows they are plugged into the conversation.

At the end of the call, the organizer should repeat this process, but instead of just a greeting each person should confirm their post-meeting action step. And if someone has nothing to do, that might indicate they shouldn’t have been invited in the first place.

If you’re fed up with excessively long, non-productive conference calls, we urge you to consider utilizing Slaughter’s tips above to help in your battle. After all, the best you can do is lead by example in hopes that your colleagues, clients, vendors, etc. will begin to follow suit and adopt such practices as well. Just imagine what your company will be able to accomplish in the future if you begin effectively managing the time spent in discussions on the phone.

To learn more useful productivity tips, contact the experts at AccelaWork today!

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Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Ashley has been working with the AccelaWork team since 2008. She is a communications expert with a background in corporate work, and a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in Public Relations. She lives in the greater Indianapolis area with her husband and four children. Ashley enjoys jewelry, fashion, and coffee.
Ashley Lee

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