"I am Sorry I was on Mute…." Ways to Pep up your Conference Calls

Maureen Leif, J.D.
President of Grays Peak Strategies

The dogs barking, the beeping, announcing yourselves, talking while on mute, hold music, can make conference calls feel painful. In this day of constant mobility, we are all on conference calls frequently. The more time we spend on them, the more important it becomes to find a way to make them the best they can be. Your conference calls do not need to be boring or dreaded, I have some ideas to help you take charge and make it a better experience for everyone.

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There’s always a gathering period for a conference call – while you are waiting for people to connect. This is often the “weather report” part of the call where people compare notes on what is or is not falling from the sky. Don’t let this linger too long, and always kick off the meeting on time. The kick off to the meeting is the most important part and will set the tone for the whole call. Always begin the meeting with a hook. You need to answer the question for people on why they need to stay awake and pay attention. You need to be excited about your own meeting if you want anyone else to share your excitement. Depending on the size of the group, have an icebreaker with introductions. Even if everyone knows each other, start with having everyone give a fun fact or favorite food. This will get people talking and allow participants to get to know each other personally, which always increases team effectiveness. Make sure that just like an in-person meeting, you have an agenda and you stay on track with time.          

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The biggest complaint about conference calls is that it is hard to get people to participate. You ask a question for feedback and all you hear is…. well, nothing. Make a habit of calling on people directly or eliciting specific feedback about an item rather than general feedback. Have people on the call play devil’s advocate. For example, set up the scenario and say, “Sue, let’s assume our project fails, can you share some thoughts about why that might be?” This is a post mortem project management exercise, but it’s a perfect way to get people over the phone to react to potential strategies or plans. Attempt to split up the agenda into focus areas and ask some of the participants to lead that section or discussion. This will help people in feeling engaged. It’s also a good idea to reach out to a few participants in advance and let them know you will be calling on them for something specific. Don’t catch Sue off guard, you know how she gets.

Think about the goal of the meeting and how best to accomplish it. Assess whether the meeting needs to be webinar, so you can share visual aids. Webcams can be fun too. You probably want to make it optional, but it’s surprising how just being on camera can make people pay more attention to what’s going on. It also cuts down on someone breaking their high score on minesweeper* or otherwise multi-tasking during your meeting. It’s not that you need to watch people, but when people can see each other they tend to be more engaged.

So, the days of people planning to get some work done during your next conference call are gone. Your team will appreciate your respect of their time, they will feel engaged and they might even have a little fun. Take a break and check out his funny YouTube video https://youtu.be/kNz82r5nyUw .

Share your own ideas on Twitter with us @GraysPeak or in the comments section here.

*The author realizes that most likely no one plays minesweeper anymore, and in fact I’m not sure it’s even still in existence.