6 Ways To Improve Your Conference Calls

April 10, 2015

It’s time to end our collective “death by conference call.”

According to new InterCall research on workplace conference call behavior, 82 percent of employees admitted to focusing on other work or non-work distractions while on a call. Rob Bellmar, executive vice president of conferencing and collaboration at InterCall, recently offered some great tips to Harvard Business Review about ending conference call abuse. Here are his highlights.

Stop striving for inclusiveness

Online calendars, scheduling apps, and email distribution lists have created a monstrous meeting invite reflex. It has become too easy to send blanket, one-hour meeting invites to 10 people when only five are relevant to the agenda.

Businesses need to break free of the notion that all attendees should be on a conference call from start to finish. Rob advises that managers can stagger invitations and plan upfront which topics will be discussed at various points in the meeting.

Start using video

Video conferencing remains a point of contention, and its adoption curve is a matter of psychological acceptance. The idea that everyone in a meeting can watch what you’re doing deters many workers, as does the dissonance between what we see in the mirror and what’s reflected on our laptop or tablet screens.

But Rob cites research from Wainhouse, which found that of the employees who use webcams and similar tools during meetings, 74 percent like the ability to see colleagues’ reactions to their ideas, and nearly 70 percent feel it increases connectedness between participants.

Understand technology use versus abuse

Just because you can videoconference from your iPhone before boarding a flight doesn’t mean you should. Organizations should dictate a new form of meeting technology etiquette, one that respects staff flexibility, and their right to efficient, uninterrupted work time and collaboration.

Rob says that part of this decorum includes redefining “full deployment.” Rather than give all employees the same basic conferencing tools, companies should give them what they really need to fulfill their unique responsibilities. Mapping the technology to the user, not vice versa, increases the likelihood that employees will take advantage of these resources and deliver a higher return on investment.

In addition to Rob’s ideas, I’ll add three suggestions.

Clarify the objective for using THIS technology

Tangentially related to Rob’s last point, there are times when you need to get everyone together for a conference call and times when you don’t. Before scheduling a call, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. If it’s project status you’re after, could team members just email you? If you’re interviewing someone for an important role, might it be more effective for conference call participants to meet the candidate in person?

Don’t just schedule a conference call to check a box. Understand the goal each individual call is expected to accomplish and communicate that goal to your participants before and at the start of the call.

Go over protocol frequently

I get that we’ve been doing conference calls since we entered the workforce. I still see the same mistakes being made. In order to get the most out of your calls, reiterate your “rules of order.” Explain how people should access your calls and don’t keep changing up your method, such as using FreeConferenceCall today and Webex tomorrow. You should even stick with the same line and passcode if possible.

Insist that participants arrive on time and introduce themselves at the start of the call. If you don’t want people listening in, off mute, from a busy city street, or calling in when they have weak reception, remind them.

Proactively ask for input on the line

Even if you’re covering the part of the agenda that’s relevant to particular participants, you can expect that they’ll tune out if they’re not engaged. Keep people on their toes and listening by periodically singling them out for commentary.

You might catch people off guard the first time you do this, but when they realize they could be called on at any time, they’ll learn to quit multi-tasking and will start paying careful attention to what’s going on. As much as you can, keep your conference calls to an open discussion format. Everyone will get more out of them!

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