Ways to optimize your conference calls

In the wake of COVID-19 and social distancing, working from home is the new normal for many and in-person meetings are turning into conference calls.

The previously vocal “Why could this have not just been an e-mail?” crowd that said conference calls are an ineffective way of getting things done are having to succumb to the new reality.

The truth is, conference calls are essential to keep projects moving along and ensure everyone is looped in, especially now with so many people working remotely. 

Knowing how to conduct meetings efficiently, and no matter the management level you’re at is a sign of a true leader. Managing a meeting effectively is a display of professionalism, whether it’s a conference call, a brainstorm session, or a regular meeting IRL. 

You can help change its perception with this guide to conference call etiquette.

Send an agenda and review it at the start of the call

People like to know what the conference call is about before the call. As the meeting owner, you need to steer and manage the conference call accordingly. If attendees start bringing up points that aren’t relevant, “park” the ideas by taking note of them and then include them when sending a recap.  

Set up a dial-in number rather than “conferencing people in”

Conferencing people into a call can be disruptive. Instead, set up a dial-in line and number so that all attendees can join the call independently, and make sure everyone has the correct dial-in.

I can’t tell you how many conference calls I’ve been on where the wrong number was given or the “meeting code number” didn’t work.

Be 5 minutes early 

Anticipate possible technical issues with a conference call. Dial-in beforehand so that you’re on the line and can ensure everything’s running smoothly. There’s nothing worse than being late to the conference call you organized! 

Limit background noise 

Try to choose a quiet room or location, as background noise can be incredibly disruptive. If you have no choice, put the phone on “mute” while you’re listening to limit the noise.

Don’t backtrack for latecomers 

Unfortunately, there will always be latecomers who *ping in* once the call has already started. Don’t recap everything that’s been discussed and bring that person up to speed — it will not only reward the bad behaviour of being late but will also really frustrate those who were on time. 

When people join conference calls late, it leads to interrupted momentum and increased distractions. 

Limit the number of attendees 

Conference calls with too many people can get out of hand, so try to keep it limited to a select list of attendees. And if someone says they need to “drop off,” let them — there’s no use in keeping someone on the line if they feel they need to be somewhere else.

 Do a “roll-call.” 

This only applies if the conference call is with a new team. In this situation, let everyone on the line introduce themselves, with their name as well as title or role.

 Do “go around the table” and let everyone have a say

Let everyone on the call get a turn to add their two cents — it will ensure everyone is engaged and listening actively. 

Don’t multitask 

It can be tempting to answer emails and work on other projects while you’re on a conference call — especially if you’re simply an attendee. According to a recent study, 82% of participants are working on something unrelated while on a conference call. But if everyone is multitasking, then no one is 100% engaged and listening actively. 

Recap at the end

Use the last 3-5 minutes of your call to recap the main points and essential action items.

Quit while you’re ahead

If your call wraps up ahead of schedule, then great — congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated and managed a conference call. Don’t bring up a whole new topic now with a, “So while I have you all here…” End on a high note.