In this golden age of virtual collaboration, conference calls might seem like an antiquated mode of communication. But we are social animals and we can talk about collective intelligence in the right direction. In a startup environment, you need to move fast and quickly push past complex situations. Collective intelligence will help deploy the best approach towards an important potential customer or a decision with high-stakes. While we will agree to a minimum, they can be extremely valuable.
1. How to organize an effective conference call?
Because time is of the essence, give a time-frame for your call. A conference call of under thirty minutes has the double effect of creating urgency and lowering the required time commitment. Nobody wants to block-off two hours for a call.
Do you require several people’s expertise at once? Keep the number of participants to those who are truly relevant to the call. Nobody likes to be invited to a meeting they won’t directly benefit from. Also, many people try to cover everything in one call, a common mistake. Focus on the trees and not the forest. Break up the work into smaller discussions.
Know where you’re going. Set objectives and if possible, define one main question statement. Send out an agenda ahead of time, outlining what topics need to be discussed along with the scheduling invitation.
2. Encouraging Engagement during a Conference Call
Just like in every other life situation, you will encounter different personalities. Conference calls can be nerve-wracking for introverts, they might shy away from speaking up even though they have relevant information to share.
Involve all attendees by asking each person to lead an aspect of the discussion and choose topics they hold authority over. You can also organize a round of feedback questions.
Let participants know about their intervention ahead of time by including each person’s role in the agenda, so that they come mentally prepared with a structured argument. This gives a chance for everyone to speak up, you never know where a good idea can come from.
3. Technology is Your Friend
Those who have experienced disastrous conference calls will remember the awkwardness of technical glitches and background noise. Master the technology prior to the day, plan & test for technical issues. Disturbing sounds around one participant can affect the whole call, remember to use the mute button when passively listening. Obviously, remember to unmute your microphone when it is your turn to speak up.
If this is a high-stakes call involving a potential client, an important pitch, have a run through with a colleague to ensure connection, headphones and microphone are working on your side.
Finally, make things easy for everyone by choosing a service that does not require a complex plug-in installation and works for both PC and Mac.
4. Choose the Right VoIP Service for your Conference Call
- Google Hangouts is freely accessible to those who have a Google email, scheduling is integrated into Google Calendar. During the call, you can easily chat and share documents and host up to 25 participants. It is also available on smartphones.
- Skype is also free, offers document-sharing and requires an account login. The platform also offers calls to phones by buying credit with special international deals. A single call can include up to 25 participants, on a desktop or as a mobile app.
- Uberconference is free and visually intuitive so it requires little to no training and offers file-sharing as well as connecting to callers social profiles. Their free offer hosts up to 10 participants. The premium version means guests won’t need a PIN to join a call and access is international.
- GoToMeeting, HD resolution conferencing, free version limits calls to 3 users, offers screen sharing and provides an accessible Chrome extension. Their premium deal includes many features like call recording, mouse and keyboard access, and a mobile app version.
- Me requires a sign up to host a conference call but not to join one, you just need the meeting code. The 14-day trial offers unlimited audio and video conferencing, a screen-sharing feature and calendar integration compatible with Outlook and Google Calendar. Their lowest offer enables calls between 5 participants and highest up to 250 callers, but remember, we agreed to keep numbers at a low!
5. Preparing Materials for a Conference Call
It is best to have a document on which to base your discussion. Use a cloud-based file-sharing platform, but check that everyone is familiar with it prior to the call. In the case of a slide presentation make sure page numbers are clearly labeled and use visual cues to clearly differentiate each section. Share the document ahead of time so that everyone has a chance to go over it prior to the call. A word of advice: turn off editing rights and use read-only feature during the call.
If you prefer a screen sharing application, make sure your call participants are comfortable with this tool ahead of time.
6. Stay On Topic
You have certainly seen meetings turn into social chit-chat, so can conference calls. Politely steer the conversation back to its main topic by referring back to the agenda. If the conversation drifts off, suggest a separate call to address the particular issue.
As the person who initiated the call, it is your responsibility to stay within the time frame and make sure all topics are covered. This can be a real challenge when working with passionate people!
7. How do you End a Conference Call?
Once the allocated time for the call is up, summarize the main points. Allow a few minutes to make sure all participants understand their next actions, deadlines and clarify any questions or doubts. If you have to leave the call before the rest of the group, let them know so to deal with unresolved points
Finally, a good tip is to always try to end a positive note and thank everyone for their commitment.
8. What to do After a Conference Call?
To keep ideas fresh in everyone’s minds, either you or another attendee will send a follow-up recap through email or your chosen collaboration tool. Avoid confusion by using the same vocabulary and talking points.
It is easy to lose track of everyone’s progress so group all tasks and deliverables ahead in a document. Project management tools like Trello and Asana give a clear visual account of everyone’s responsibilities and progress.
9. Conference Call Etiquette
- Schedule the call ahead of time and include an agenda.
- Before diving into the subject, introduce all participants to one-another once everyone is logged-in.
- Quickly go over the call’s main objective and each person’s contribution.
- Stick to the time frame by keeping the cat to a minimum.
- End the call with a plan of action, with clear tasks and deadlines for all participants.
- Thank everyone for their time and input.