Adding Life to Conference Calls

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

(#8 in The Energy Bar series)

Conference calls can be deadly, although they do provide great opportunities to increase your skills at Candy Crush and Spider Solitaire.

People tune out when they don’t think they need to be tuned in. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? But think of all the hours you’ve wasted wondering why you were forced to be on conference calls.

Here’s what to do.

Rule 1: Each person must know why he or she is asked to be on this call and what you expect from them. Do you want their ideas? Critique? Approval? Be clear about what you need.

Rule 2: Tell them how to prepare for the call. Do you want them to read something? Think about something? Be prepared to offer ideas?

Rule 3: Demand their involvement during the call.

“Jens, what’s your reaction to the proposal that we shift marketing from Brussels to Copenhagen?” It should only take a couple of dead silences for the group to get the message that they need to be awake and engaged during this meeting.

Call on people, not to put them on the spot, but to hear that they think.

Rule 4: Talk a little and listen a lot. A conference call should be short on explanation and long on conversation. Once people start to think, “I don’t need to hear that part,” they’ll begin to tune out.

Don’t be afraid of silence. Ask a question, then shut up! Two seconds of silence may feel a lot longer. Even if it does seem like an eternity, try to keep the duct tape over your mouth for a little while longer.

Rule 5: Keep the phone lines open. Do not mute people. (I was on a call once, when someone muted her line, not realizing that we would hear music – and bad music at that.) I’d rather hear background noises than speak into a telecom void. This leads to the next rule.

Rule 6: Keep the meeting small. Imagine that these people are sitting around a table with you. The larger the group, the easier it is for people to tune out. This links back to Rule 1 – people need to know that their voice is critical to the success of this phone meeting.

Rule 7: Send them something visual that helps people stay focused. This could be an agenda, a chart, a mind map, and so forth. (Hint: a large PowerPoint deck filled with talking points is not likely to cut it.)

Rule 8: Keep the meeting as short as possible. If it is a complex set of issues, then schedule a series of short meetings. I find that 30-minute meetings usually work well, but 60-minute meetings can push the limits of human endurance.

Rule 9: Find out how you did. Ask a question or two about how the meeting went and get their suggestions for future meetings. Duct tape can be real handy when you ask for feedback. If you listen to that feedback, your phone meetings should get better – and people start to learn that you want to hear what they have to say.

Rule 10: Follow-up on actions or promises that were made on the call.

Click here if you’d like to see the 3-minute animated video on The Energy Bar.

There is a comment box below this post, please add your own rules for conference calls or tell us why you disagree with my ten rules.  (Some of you will surely disagree with Rule 5, so I’d love to hear your suggestions.)