As a business professional, you will probably be called upon to plan and conduct meetings via conference call. While these conference calls will never fully replace the need for the face-to-face meeting, they are a necessary tool for communication and decision making in a faced paced project environment.
We may all be more comfortable within the setting of a traditional meeting, where visual clues can help us charter a course through conflict and internal politics, but if managed properly, the conference call can also be an effective form of project communication.
Preparation is the key to managing any productive meeting, but thorough preparation is vital to the success of any conference call. The road to preparation begins with the agenda. In addition to ensuring the very quality and structure of agenda itself, the conference call leader must also have the agenda ready in sufficient time for advance distribution. In a conference call situation, you cannot simply dash into the conference room at the last minute, agenda copies in hand, fresh off the copier or printer. You must set aside sufficient time to place the agenda online, or to fax or e-mail copies to all meeting participants well in advance of the meeting start time. And, to ensure full participation and attendance, your agenda should include all vital statistics about the call, including dial-in numbers, passcodes and related information. You can almost guarantee that your call will get off on the wrong foot if participants lack the correct information to join in on the meeting.
"A picture is worth more than 1,000 words". Get an illustrated view of meeting planning with our informative infographics Recipe for Meeting Agenda Productivity and Tools for Committee Action (Meetings, Motions and Minutes).
As the leader of a conference call, it is your obligation to ensure that all participants are aware of the expected conference call etiquette. Have you ever been part of a conference call where effective communication is interrupted by "music on hold" or those "clicks" that can only be typing sounds. This can be frustrating to all parties, but with the creation of ground rules for call participation, you can achieve a more productive, courteous and timely meeting.
As you prepare to plan and lead your conference call, be mindful of the impact that physical location can have upon call dynamics. For example, if all participants in the call are remote, then as the leader, you are just another link in the call chain. In this configuration, all participants are on equal footing, and you can employ one set of call management techniques. However, project and logistical circumstances may dictate a different call configuration. As a call leader, you may find yourself in the challenging position of having some participants in the same location as you, while other participants are in various remote locations, tied in via phone. The leader is the cog in the meeting wheel. The remote participants are the spokes.
Maintaining control and momentum in a meeting where all participants are remote is a challenge for a call leader, but at least, everyone is on equal footing. The key to success is to establish control at the very start by reviewing the agenda, and then by sticking to it.
Whenever the call leader and any number of participants are in one central location, and all other participants are in one or more remote locations, extra attention must be paid to those who are remote. In this scenario, the call leader must battle the exclusion factor – wherein remote participants can inadvertently be made to feel alone and alienated.
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