Do you find too often that conference calls go well past the point they should? That’s not to say that conference calls among your small business don’t have value. Especially with flexible work styles, team members may be scattered around the country, so that a phone conference makes it easy to collaborate and, when necessary, bring customers, suppliers and other business associates into the conversation. Furthermore, with today’s technology, anyone can conveniently launch an impromptu phone conference from anywhere, using a mobile device and a headset to filter out background noise.
However, many phone conference calls miss the mark when it comes to effectiveness because they go on too long to hold everyone’s “undivided attention.” One person starts to dominate the call discouraging an exchange of ideas, or calls move off course and miss their original intent. To ensure your conference calls get the results you want, take the following steps before, during and after the call.
Prepare for the call
Start with an agenda: Determine in advance what you want to achieve from the call, create an agenda and as appropriate, identify who among the participants should lead each part of the discussion. Distribute the agenda before the call – no later than a day in advance – and make sure each participant acknowledges their role. Along with the agenda, send out background or supplemental materials.
Set a start and stop to the call: To ensure that you don’t run over, in addition to setting a start time, indicate how long the call will last. You may even want to allocate a set amount of time for the various discussion topics. Generally a call should not exceed an hour. However, if the conversation is lively and productive, you may want to let it run over.
Provide information on each participant: Not an issue if everyone is familiar with each other, but if someone from outside your team will be on the call provide a brief background on each participant for those on the call.
Vary the content: Not everyone processes information the same way, as noted by a guide from the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) on effective small group conference calls. Consider how the call will appeal to each of the participants who may learn best through personal interaction, presentation of big ideas and visions, or insight into data, numbers and processes. Try to include types of content that will appeal to each of your participants.
Conduct the call
Get everyone engaged: Something as simple as, “how’s the weather?” gets people’s attention. Try to engage everyone on the call, by showing interest in each participant, and their response to the question. Then set expectations for the call reiterating what you want to accomplish and going over the agenda.
Follow the agenda: Keep everyone on track and on time with their presentations. Don’t let one person monopolize the questions and discussion. If someone isn’t participating, give them opportunities to participate by asking them individual questions to get their insight.
Summarize points along the way: At the end of each agenda item, summarize key points to make sure everyone is clear about what was said and make note of the final takeaways.
Do a final recap: Make sure you leave enough time for final questions and a review.
Send notes or a written recap, indicating next steps. Set a time and day for a follow-up conference call if there is one, and establish a method for ongoing communication with you and the rest of the team regarding action items that came from the call. Depending on your small business technology, the next step might be collaboration on a document in the cloud, for example.
Conference calls can get everyone on the same page. Make sure that words turn into deeds by keeping the calls on track and focused.