Almost anyone who works within an organization faces the reality of the sometimes dreaded – conference call! Typically necessary, these virtual meetings can actually be very productive if you’re intentional about it.
A recent WSJ article by Sue Shellenbarger, Help! I’m on a Conference Call!, Feb. 26, 2014, highlights some key pitfalls and helpful tips to get the most out of the event. (Remember, up to 75% of communication is non-verbal, so it’s critical that virtual meeting leaders put in the extra effort!) Conference call or not, these are great pointers on doing something that many struggle with – leading effective meetings.
The author identifies some common participant categories; I added a few of my thoughts too:
- The “Multi-Tasker”: Fails to hit the mute button while you hear everything from the dog barking to the toilet flushing, and of course, the keyboard clicking
- The Monopolizer: Tends to think out loud, talks endlessly without regard to the other participants and, sometimes, hijacks the meeting
- The Lurker: Blindsides participants by not announcing their presence on the call until the end, if at all
- The Interrupter: Fails to adapt to communication delays and repeatedly breaks in while others are speaking
- The Non-Talker: Attends meetings and calls but rarely, if ever, speaks up; they’re not trying to hide, they just don’t speak up
- The Host: Explains the face-to-face joking and visual displays within the main group so that those who are remote don’t feel left out
- The Coach: Manages the conversation toward a planned goal and reminds people when they get off-topic or talk too much
Ms. Schellenbarger identifies some ways that call leaders can insure more effective conference calls:
- Set firmer ground rules and more explicit agendas than for typical face-to-face meetings, and have the courage to hold people accountable to these
- Call leaders have to work harder to get participation by listening more carefully and asking more questions
- Communication experts say that for calls that require heavy interaction, there should be no more than 7 to 9 participants
- For people who are not participating you might ask: “Jane, you’re kind of quiet today. What are your thoughts?” Also, the leader might “go around the table” and ask each participant for their summary comments
- Assigning a note taker and a moderator can free up the leader to focus on keeping everyone engaged
Here’s my favorite recommendation: “Meeting leaders should spend as much time on preparing questions to ask as on preparing the agenda.” Sound advice!