Conference calls are a fantastic way to keep everyone in your company connected and informed. It’s important, however, to ensure to keep the calls productive and effective. A recent survey found that many conference call participants admitted to finding other ways to keep themselves busy while on a call:
- 63% worked on other projects or sent an email
- 44% were texting
- 43% checked social media
- 25% played video games
- 21% shopped online
How can you prevent this from occurring during your own conference calls? This guide will not only illustrate the benefits of conference and video calls, but it will also teach you how to keep your participants engaged, interested and actively participating.
Benefits of conference and video calling for your business
One of the biggest benefits of conference calls is that they are extremely cost effective. Rather than having a meeting where most everyone must travel to attend, a group call can get everyone in the same place without the need for gas, expense reports or group airline rates. You’ll save on your overall travel budget, not to mention potential incidentals. Though there are initial costs upfront, the return on investment is usually quite swift.
Conference and video calls are also an excellent way to improve and maintain communication across your business. It can connect employees across all departments, from offices across the state to offices overseas. It’s an excellent way to keep telecommuters and remote employees in the loop, as well as give them the opportunity to provide insight into daily operations and new policies. Even those traveling can participate in conference calls; they can dial in while on the road, or during a layover at the airport. Conference calling can even get around conditions that would normally delay a meeting or a participant’s arrival to it, like inclement weather and flight delays.
Utilizing conference calls is also a great way to keep a better work-life balance. Not only does it cut down on excessive traveling, which can cause workers to feel burnt out, it allows employees more options. Suppose your chief accountant is back from maternity leave, but still looking for a full-time daycare. Regular conference calls taken at home can help alleviate the stress of finding a caregiver while still staying in the loop at work. Further, should a particularly valuable employee need to relocate — for personal reasons or to fulfill the needs of another branch of the business, for example — regular conference calls can save on costly recruiting and re-training a replacement.
Regular use of conference calls can also give you an edge over your competitors in the market. You can interview potential job candidates who live across the country, even on the other side of the globe. It’s a great addition to customer service issues, too! Imagine: a sales representative runs into an issue delivering a product to a client. While reaching out to the client, she can conference in customer service to help correct the situation and reduce the likelihood of misinformation or miscommunication. And video conferencing specifically is a great way to make your meetings or interviews more personal since participants can actually see your face and body language. You become an actual person to those you’re working with, rather than just an email signature or a booming voice over a speakerphone. This allows you to create stronger relationships with both clients and colleagues.
Conference and video calls aren’t only productive in the here and now, but also long-term. By recording and archiving important meetings and strategy sessions, you can give your team regular access so they can brush up on material, revisit former ideas and theories, and give new hires a point of reference for these kinds of meetings. Video meeting archives can create a strong base of information and even keep records of company milestones. It’s also an excellent way to streamline new hire training; recorded training modules allow for a more personal, interesting way to on-board newbies than dry, text-based material.
How to make the most of your conference calls
Establish a goal for your call. It’s important that everyone participating understands why they’re there and what is expected of them. Just remember to keep your objectives realistic. A single hour-long conference call isn’t going to result in a full marketing strategy, but it’s a great place to brainstorm ideas, decide on a process and assign responsibilities.Once you’ve got your goal in mind, you can prepare an official meeting agenda.
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Next, pick the right space to take your conference call. Closing the door of your office should be sufficient if you’re taking it solo, or you can relocate to a conference room if taking the call with others. If you’re taking it with a group, be sure there are multiple loud speakers around the room. Ensure a seamless call by heading to the space early to test speakers and any other necessary electronics like projectors.
If you’re using an accompanying presentation with your call, it’s a good idea to send it out beforehand so everyone can jump onto the call prepared. Be careful, however, not to send it too early. Workers may be tempted to read the slides early and pay less attention on the actual call. This is especially true with long, wordy slides that are simply read aloud — if you choose to include a presentation, limit the number of slides and use primary sources of data like graphs and product demonstrations. Send the presentation no more than 5 to 10 minutes before your call. Screen sharing via a web conferencing service is an awesome way to keep everyone on the same page at the same time, and eliminates the possibility of anyone jumping too far ahead.
Now that you’ve got your preparation bases covered, be sure to dial in to your call about 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time. Welcome each participant as they join the call and confirm everyone’s name so you have an accurate attendance list. Verify that everyone has the needed materials handy: the call agenda, presentation slides (if you aren’t sharing screens), and any additional information you requested.
Next, reiterate your team’s goal and set the expectations for how the call should go. Ask that anyone not speaking mutes their microphone to eliminate background noise and to move their silenced cell phones away from their computer speakers to reduce interference. Establish how questions will be handled: should they be asked as they come, saved for the end of each agenda topic, or saved for the very end of the call? If there are three or more people on the call, ask that everyone prefaces any questions or comments with their name so everyone knows who is speaking. Let your team know that you value their input and encourage them to participate.
While on the call, use short statements and speak clearly to avoid misunderstandings. If your call is audio-only, be expressive and veer away from becoming too monotone. Since no one can see your body language or facial expressions, keep participants engaged by reflecting your passion about your business through your tone.
Be sure that as the leader you are setting the standard for appropriate conference call behavior, even if you’re alone in the room. Take notes and stay focused on the information being discussed. Don’t text, work on other projects or surf the Internet while others are speaking. Respond to input and information from others on the call and don’t worry if it gets quiet. Take the reporter’s approach to silence in interviews: wait patiently, and often your audience will break the quiet. If your team still seems stumped, try reframing the issue by asking a question that helps the group see it from another perspective. Be sure to stick to the agenda and avoid any off-topic subjects that could keep the call from staying productive.
As your call draws to an end, do a brief recap of what was discussed and any solutions arrived at during the meeting. Allow extra time for any additional questions and ensure that everyone feels confident leaving the call. If there are “next steps,” check to be sure that everyone knows their responsibilities and has the appropriate contact information should issues arise. Some people may have questions with answers everyone should hear and others may warrant a separate call, so ensure you know the difference to avoid keeping people on a call no longer relevant to them.
Let everyone know how to access the minutes of the meeting. If notes will be emailed or posted, let them know when and where. If the call was recorded, let participants know how they can access it or email them a direct link or file. Confirm the time of any upcoming calls or meetings as necessary. Finally, sincerely thank everyone for participating in the call. It can be a challenge to sit still for even the most engaging and interesting meetings, so acknowledging your gratitude is important.
Conference calls are a fantastic way to make the world smaller. Staying connected and bouncing ideas off each other from afar can bring your team together and strengthen it. Remember these tips for keeping your calls effective, and soon they will be an event your colleagues look forward to!