Many of us have experienced conference calls that feel like a waste of time. In fact, research shows it. However, with an estimated 70 percent of employees around the world working remotely at least once a week, online meetings are crucial. That’s why it’s so important that your conference calls are effective and productive.
High-quality conference calls have clear audio and sharp video qualities, a prepared host with a streamlined agenda and a high level of participation from attendees. A productive conference call not only promotes collaboration, but it can also help get projects done faster by clearing up confusion and finding opportunities to be proactive.
On the other hand, poor quality calls can happen for a variety of reasons that are often immediately apparent. These tedious meetings become a victim of several issues, such as distracted participants, inconsistent audio or video, lack of an agenda or intrusive sounds. Each of these problems frequently adds up to missed opportunities for teams to communicate, which can quickly impact productivity, and ultimately the bottom line.
Here are a few tips to make sure every conference call that your business schedules is a productive one.
1. Control the environment to minimize distractions
- Find a quiet space to minimize background sounds and distractions. Eliminating disturbances is especially important for the meeting host. For example, a large room could have echoes or a corner near the window could have street noise.
- Test your conference call technology before you get started to make sure your microphone, speaker, and video are all in working order and at a good volume.
- Stay on mute when you’re not speaking. Even small sounds like the wind blowing, or a neighbor’s dog barking, can derail a fruitful conversation.
- Use a headset with noise-canceling microphones to improve audio quality. A hardwired headset will commonly have better quality than Bluetooth.
- If sharing a small room or office with a colleague, avoid having each person call into the conference call as it could create a distracting feedback noise.
2. Ensure easy meeting access to maximize attendance
- The easiest way to maximize participation is to use a conference call tool with the flexibility to log in from any device.
- Also, consider accessibility for external participants if invitations go out to people outside the company.
- Whenever possible provide a direct link that will log in to the virtual meeting when clicked. This is easier than calling in and typing in a meeting ID.
- Send calendar invites with advance notice. Keep participants’ time zones in mind whenever possible. A 9 am EST call means 6 am PST for West Coast colleagues.
3. Stay on task to keep meetings productive
- Be punctual. It’s important for the meeting host to join at least 5 minutes early to kick off a productive discussion.
- Send out a focused agenda at least 24 hours ahead of the conference call. Consider allowing participants the ability to add questions or feedback before the meeting.
- Optimize the agenda by writing the meeting’s topics in the form of a question and specifying the goal for each one (such as “for decision” or “for Q&A”).
- During the meeting, stick to the agenda. Keep things as straightforward as possible to get your point across.
- Keep the meeting moving to minimize participants getting lost, distracted, or bored. Eliminating lulls of inactivity is essential for large groups.
- Keep statements short and direct to avoid crosstalk. Try to rein in long-winded digressions.
- During video calls, make use of screen sharing. If using a slide presentation, treat them as a visual aid to your meeting, and keep the text light.
- Recap the key points of the meeting to end the call.
4. Encourage participation to open lines of communication
- Share a quick story or light question to start a conversation and build a connection while waiting for participants to join.
- If hosting, introduce yourself and others to help begin the conversation.
- Wrap up the small talk as soon as everyone has joined to focus on the meeting.
- Begin the meeting with a summary of the agenda so that all participants understand the purpose of the meeting.
- Set the tone with confident statements that are to the point.
- Encourage attendees to ask questions so people don’t tune out.
- Share your screen so participants can follow along.
- Ask for feedback often, and pause briefly to allow time for participants to ask questions by silently counting to three.
- Ask direct, targeted questions to specific participants to encourage responses. These can be more effective than open-ended questions to the entire group.
- Whenever possible, run the meeting with video attendance. Visual cues will help participants pay attention and feel more connected to one another.
Effective virtual meetings can provide much-needed clarity in a world filled with hundreds of emails per day. Although email has its uses, it removes the two crucial tenets of communication: body language and tone of voice. High-quality online meetings, whether in audio or video, are a great way to recapture discussion that could otherwise lose itself in translation. That’s why it’s valuable to have effective technology, prepared meeting hosts, and high levels of participation to help take teamwork to the next level.