Conference Calls: Connecting a Virtual Team
Let’s start off with a laugh, just to keep things interesting. To be completely candid, conference calls, in general, are a huge waste of time. They are highly unproductive and are a pain in everybody’s rear-end. This is how a real-life conference call generally goes. But in order to run an online business, people who are working together as a team are generally never in one place together. Virtual teams interact differently. The most typical ways to interact and collaborate being a virtual team is via email, chat or conference calls. Most all collaborations that are done by a virtual team, are done via conference calls (whether we hate them or not) and there are several different types of conference calls.
Conference calls vary depending upon the organization or industry that you are working in. And in order to have an actual conference call there needs to be enough people on the line to make it slightly awkward and sometimes difficult to determine who is talking, when.
The most common conference call is known as a “team meeting.” These type of calls generally consist of less than ten people who are collaborating together and working through an agenda as a team. Another common type of conference call is a presentation style. This call consists of 15 or more participants and the majority of the talking is done by one person who is going through an agenda. There is generally no interaction during the bulk of the call but there is a CTA (call-to-action) at the end of the call. If there are 3 people or less on the line it is usually not considered a conference call.
No matter what type of conference call you are facilitating or involved with, you need to make the best use of time possible during your call. In this article we will discuss several ways to ensure that you have prepared, facilitated and concluded a conference call the best way possible.
Preparing for Your Conference Call
Agenda, Agenda, Agenda. This is the absolute, most crucial part of your entire call, essentially this the reason for the call. Your agenda is how everybody knows what you and they are talking about. If you don’t have an agenda on what you want to get done, there is absolutely no way you’re going to ever be effective in your use of time.
Facilitator. Who is running the call and going through the agenda? When you get more than 3 people on the phone, everybody tends to be quiet and wait. Nobody wants to talk over the anybody else, and then you don’t get a good discussion. It makes it hard to make decisions. You don’t want everybody just sitting there listening or surfing the internet.
Minute Taker. You are going to need to begin with the end in mind. You need to know that there are going to be different decision pieces and action items that come out of the conference call. Somebody needs to be prepared to take minutes and follow-up, and this needs to be clarified before the call ever happens. The last thing you want is for an hour long conversation to take place and at the end somebody says, “Okay, are we all good?” And everybody says, “Yeah!” You hang up the phone and come back a week later and nobody knows what they should have done.
Scheduling Your Conference Call
Preparing and scheduling your conference call is just as important as running the conference call. Before you even schedule one, you should be sure that your key people are able to make it at the proposed time. If they cannot be there then the call should be rescheduled.
Before actually scheduling your conference call, make sure you have a reliable teleconference system. Some very important features for the system should be:
- Screen sharing – This option is good so that people attending the call can visually see what needs to be done and how to do it, if needed.
- Recording options – Some people may not be able to attend the call. This will give people the opportunity to playback the meeting at a later time and the option to transcribe what was said.
- Text chatting – If someone wants to ask a question but does not want to interrupt the meeting, this is a great option to have.
- Mute option – Background noise can be very distracting during a call. Make sure attendees can mute what is going on around them.
- Conference codes for security – Business meetings and collaborations are private. If the email reminder goes to a random email address, you do not want people outside your business being able to listen in to your meeting.
- Call Reminders – This is a good option to have in case someone forgets about the meeting (because you know everyone is doing other things).
Plan how the call will be conducted and make sure that the attendees will be able to access the service that you are planning to use. There are some very reliable teleconferencing services on the market that provide the above options:
Timing is everything and every minute matters.
Running late puts everybody behind and if you only have a half hour for the call and you start three minutes late, you’ve just lost 1/10 of the amount of time that you have to talk through everything. When scheduling your call, prepare to start ten minutes late and finish five minutes early. Always leave five minutes of extra time at the end for a Q&A session. If you can’t finish on time it makes it hard for people to start their next call on time.
After you have decided what software will work best for all parties there are steps that you can take to make sure that the conference call runs smoothly. Plan for everything.
Hosting A Conference Call
Now that you have decided on the software you are going to use, and the time and date, now you need to plan the hosting part of the conference call (and everyone loves a good host).
Just like any meeting, every participant needs crucial information for the meeting. Plan on sending out a meeting notice. Inside of your meeting notice, provide a link to the phone number to dial into, or however the participant is planning on joining the call. Attach your agenda (very crucial). Again, your agenda outlines the meeting and what you want to get done.
The day of the call, plan to arrive early. Most of the time, your participants will be getting on the line a minute or two past the start time. Plan to get the call started as soon as possible to avoid delays. Welcome each person as they come on the line and confirm their name. You want to ensure that everyone who is participating in the call is there, before you begin getting into the agenda.
If this is your first conference call as a group and your team has never worked together, you’ll have people that don’t know each other. It might be helpful to list full names, what roles they are in and what time zones they are calling from. It may also be helpful and efficient to put this information in your meeting invite.
As the host, welcome each attendee as they come onto the line and confirm their name. Check to be sure that everyone has received the agenda or any additional required information for the call that was attached to the meeting invite.
As a courtesy, request that all attendees mute their phones. The last thing that you want is annoying background noise … again refer to the real life conference call. If they have any questions or comments they can easily unmute themselves, and let them know that if they do have a question or comment, that it’s common courtesy to say their name first. This keeps all confusion at bay and helps if there is someone that’s transcribing the call later on.
Now, the call has begun. The agenda is being run through. Your minute-taker is taking notes. Things are running smoothly. Time looks good (not common – prepare for anything)..
As the facilitator, asking questions in order to solicit feedback is very, very important. Once you have asked your question, PAUSE … and TEN is the magic number. Ten seconds to wait. You will need to actually count to ten to learn how to time ten seconds. This number is important because it will take five seconds for a participant to finish thinking and start speaking. Once they have formulated the thought, it will take two to three seconds for them to speak up.
So if you move on without waiting ten seconds, you’ll start into your next topic and somebody will interject with, “Wait! I had something.” Since you can’t see the visual feedback loop when you are on a call, this WILL happen. It’s not easy to read body language, even when you are on video Skype.
The pause is critical for getting people’s feedback!
The feedback is critical for your business!
Now that you’ve gone through your topics and discussed them, you should ideally you have a few minutes left at the end of the call. Go around and see if anybody has any unresolved questions about whatever the topic is. Summarize any notes that you’ve made and recap any and all decisions made during the call.
Be sure that your call to action has been clarified so that everyone is aware of what is expected of them.
If a follow-up call is needed, be sure to get that on everyone’s calendar or at least address it and inform attendees that an email will be going out regarding the next call. Thank everyone for their time – because we all know that everyone’s time is valuable.
Congratulations!!! You have made it through your much anticipated conference call! Don’t think that your job is done – there is still some follow up work. Whoever was in charge of taking the meeting minutes should sum up the meeting and the call-to-action items and email the group or notify through your project management software.
Remember, not all conference calls are created equal.
But there is one thing that is equal for every conference call: If you aren’t clear on why you are getting on the phone, it’s going to be rough to get the results you want to get.