Stop hating your conference calls (or ‘how to have a good one’)

3rd February 2015

Ever been on a conference call that was tedious?

I thought so. Everyone has.

Here are six simple, effective ways to improve them:

  1. Get the mechanism right: This is the most important one: ensure it should be a conference call. For instance, one-way communications like information downloads and weekly updates often make better emails.
  2. Focus on the ‘do’: When preparing, focus first on what you want attendees to do after the call, and then work back from there to decide on your agenda. This stops you wasting time on unnecessary issues.
  3. Get the duration right: Most conference calls last 30 or 60 minutes. This is because your calendar is split into 30-minute chunks – not the best rationale for deciding meeting durations! If you think the call should take 5 minutes, schedule it for 5 minutes.
  4. Use names: Asking open questions to a group of people who can’t see each other usually results in silence. Using people’s names makes people aware of who should reply.
  5. Persuasive invitations: A diary entry called “Weekly update – conference call: Friday, 9am” does not make people rush to the phone. Instead, set the tone for your call in your invitation. For instance:
  • A title containing a benefit (eg ‘Conference call: improving our performance’)
  • Purpose i.e. what attendees are to do after the call (eg ‘To identify 1-2 improvements each of us can make, to help us hit targets next quarter’)
  • Duration – not 30 or 60 minutes (eg ’Maximum duration: 20 minutes, though I expect it to be less’)
  • If appropriate, send pre-call reading with the invitation. (This removes much of the dry information swap on the call)
  1. Follow-up: The minute the call ends, email attendees the action list showing who is doing what, by when.

Action Point

For conference calls you chair:

Do these steps in your next call (the easiest is point 3 – instead of “duration will be 30 minutes”, say “maximum duration will be 20”)

For conference calls you attend:

Forward this email to the Chairperson (if appropriate)!

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