Office technology has developed rapidly in recent years resulting in new ways of working and doing business.
A growing number of companies rely on remote workers who operate outside the traditional office space and many UK-based businesses draw a significant percentage of their customer base from abroad.
Conference calls have become essential for maintaining business relationships, managing satellite teams and delivering excellent customer service. They allow colleagues and their clients to “meet” via the telephone, wherever they may be in the world.
But how do you get the most out of those precious minutes on the phone? We’ve all sat through painful conference calls where there seems to be no agenda, people talk over one another and technical issues make the whole process unproductive.
We’ve put together our top five tips for better conference calls to help you achieve your objectives in telephone meetings;
1. Set an agenda and stick to it
Just with “real” meetings, conference calls need a clear objective to keep them on track and productive. Participants need to know what to expect so they can prepare adequately.
The best way to do this is to set an agenda and circulate this before the call. Allow enough time for people to gather documents they may need and to note down any questions or contributions they have.
It’s good etiquette to invite participants to contribute topics for the agenda, or at the very least, to allow time for AOB (any other business).
Set a start and end time, and if there are a high number of agenda points and/or several attendees, it may be helpful to include suggested time allocations for each item.
The meeting doesn’t need to strictly adhere to this agenda, but calls can quickly go off tangent and run over time if they are not well structured and managed.
2. Test your tech
Don’t try a new piece of equipment for the first time on an important call. There are almost always teething problems when using new technology so resolve them during a test session between colleagues than in a meeting with your top clients.
Even if you’re relying on an established business phone system, it’s a good idea to test everything is up and running as it should be several hours before a call and again just before. There may be minor issues you can quickly resolve before everyone is logged in to the call and ready to talk business.
3. Observe conference call etiquette
There are a few unspoken “rules” to observe when making a conference call. Call etiquette is fairly common sense, but there’s no harm in adding a few sentences at the foot of the agenda to outline expectations.
Clarifying expectations can avoid unnecessary misunderstandings or offence. This may be especially useful if a call involves people who have not met before or who are from different cultures.
As with any other interactions during office hours, employees are representing their company during conference calls and this should be kept in mind at all times. Sharing the company’s guide to conference call etiquette with employees will ensure that a professional image is presented consistently across the workforce.
Some of the most important conference call “rules” or manners are being punctual, introducing yourself, muting your mic when not speaking, not eating or drinking and being prepared.
4. Take notes or record the meeting
It can be difficult to lead a meeting or even fully participate while frantically trying to note down important contributions and queries. Assign a member of staff to attend solely as a note taker. Alternatively, make a recording of the meeting.
Share recordings and notes with attendees allowing them to revisit points on the agenda they missed or need to take further action on. This is also an easy way to include relevant colleagues who could not attend the call.
It’s useful to have a recording of meetings for future reference because it’s impossible to tell when the content may become relevant and useful again.
Perhaps a project is so successful you decide to rerun it for a second year. In this scenario, employees would save a lot of time and effort if they can revisit discussions by the previous project team.
5. Follow up and invite feedback
Be sure to follow up the meeting with an email that includes a summary of the key takeaways, a link to the recording or notes, any documents referenced during the call and details of next steps.
It’s good etiquette to thank people for attending and to invite feedback. You may prefer to share a link to an online survey, such as SurveyMonkey, or to leave responses open.
If preparing survey questions, consider not only the content of the meeting but also call quality, the format of the meeting, time allocated and any other technical elements that might be improved.
Conference calling is not new, but businesses are increasingly relying on it as a means of effective communication between geographically dispersed workforces and customer bases.
Time in the working day is short, so make the most of it on the phone with clients and colleagues by following these simple steps to better conference calls.
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