One of my favorite viral videos ever is this hilarious spoof of how an in-person meeting would go if it were like a conference call. It’s funny because it’s SO incredibly accurate.
Conference calls can be truly terrible. We’ve all been there – bad connections, people trying to talk at the same time, that certain person who rambles on and on … and on …
Since our company has team members and clients spread across multiple states, nearly all of our meetings are conducted by conference call (or video). As a result, we’ve learned a few tricks for more effective conference calls, and better meetings in general. We’ve also discovered a great new tool which makes conference calling a more productive and enjoyable experience.
5 Tips for More Effective Conference Calls + Our Favorite New Meeting Tool
- Have a Detailed Agenda
If you are the meeting organizer, define a specific purpose for the meeting, outline all topics to be discussed and communicate the desired outcome(s). This article from Harvard Business Review offers great suggestions for designing an effective agenda, as well as an agenda template you can use for your next meeting.
- Don’t Try to Cram Too Much Into One Call
Trying to hold a “marathon meeting” to cover a dozen different topics is boring for participants and is usually ineffective. When creating the agenda, try to be as focused as possible and stick to one or two objectives. Look at each topic and ask yourself, “could this be accomplished separately from the meeting?” Some of the items can likely be addressed via phone or email to individuals, or in separate, shorter meetings with fewer participants.
- Come Prepared – and Help Others Do the Same
Make sure participants have the agenda far enough in advance so they can plan and prepare, and be sure to indicate what each person needs to bring to the meeting or prepare for ahead of time. If it is a brainstorming meeting, for example, it’s far more productive to ask everyone to come with ideas to share with the group, rather than trying to come up with ideas on the spot when the meeting is in progress.
- Set Time Limits
There’s no point in having an agenda if the group spends the whole time talking about Item 1 and never gets to the other items. Allot a certain amount of time to each agenda item, and communicate these to everyone during the call: “Ok team, we have ten minutes to discuss the fundraising campaign strategy. We’ll spend the first five minutes sharing the ideas we’ve come up with, then vote on our favorite.” Respect everyone’s time by setting a firm ending time to the meeting and sticking to it.
Management expert Victor Lipman recommends scheduling the meeting to last half the time you originally planned, explaining that with less time available to accomplish the meeting objectives, less time will be wasted.
- Assign Action Items
Here’s a common problem with conference calls: ideas are shared, people say things like, “we should do such-and-such” … and then the call ends without clear decisions about who is responsible for what. It’s essential that tasks are assigned as each agenda item is discussed so that everyone is on the same page about next steps. Before moving on to the next agenda item, be sure that someone recaps what was decided and each person knows what they are supposed to do.
Enjoy Better Calls with UberConference!
We recently started using UberConference for our conference calls, and it is FABULOUS! It’s free (or you can get a Pro account for $10/month), and participants can access the conference call using their computer or phone. What makes it unique (and what we totally love about it) is that you get a customized URL that serves as the visual representation of your conference call – so you can see who is on the call at all times.
Here’s a short intro video on UberConference – it’s fantastic and gives a great overview of how to use this service.
Don’t keep dreading conference calls; make it your personal mission to improve them. Give these tips a try and let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy conferencing!