Short & Sweet – Tips for Keeping your Conference Call on Track

All meetings worth attending are focused and straightforward. It can be a challenge, however, to manage large calls, especially when there are many vested interests. If you’re stressing out about staying on schedule and on point, set yourself up for success with these recommendations.

Plan Ahead & Prepare

When you’re planning a conference call, the lion’s share of your responsibilities come well before you dial in. You already know that you’ve got to have your ducks in a row. But you also need to provide attendees with the tools and resources they need to come into the call prepared to participate. Even if your conference call is only scheduled to last thirty minutes, be ready to invest a significant amount of time in planning.

  • Identify a single goal. This may sound simple, but most business calls revolve around decisions that depend on a variety of moving parts. If you can’t pinpoint the main objective of your conference call, it’s all too likely that participants won’t be able to either. This can lead to long digressions, confusion, and failure to arrive at an actionable solution to the situation at hand. Stave off the possibility of an unproductive call by establishing one clear, concrete goal. Make sure everyone who will be on the call knows what this goal is ahead of time. And don’t forget to provide a bit of context that supports why you chose this goal over any others that might have been on the table.
  • Share your agenda. Goal in place, build an agenda that reflects it. Include a bulleted list of discussion points to help keep you—and everyone else—on task. Share your agenda with each and every participant, leaving them enough time to look it over and digest it before the scheduled call. You may also want to include supplementary materials and handouts at this time. A summary of background information ensures that everyone is on the same page. Brief biographical statements of key attendees are helpful when a conference involves representatives from multiple partners or even from different departments in a large company or organization.

Structure & Strategy

You’ve got your agenda, notes, and a stellar presentation exactly the way you want them. The conference call is scheduled to start in ten minutes. It’s time to take the reins, making sure that all your planning pays off.

  • Be early. If you’re hosting the call, aim to be the first one on the line. Dial in five to ten minutes ahead of time. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a moderator who’s late to the game.
  • Start strong and on time. Don’t waste precious minutes waiting around for stragglers. Beginning on time lets participants who arrived on time know that you value their time and punctuality. You can bet that latecomers will only be late once.  Once the call has started, one of the first things you should do is outline basic guidelines for everyone on the call. Time limits for speakers, when and how questions are to be asked, and a reminder for that attendees should mute their lines to limit background noise are all good items to cover.
  • Keep your eye on the prize. Remember that goal you identified while preparing for your conference call? Good. Make sure to remind everyone else, too. If anyone forgot to review the agenda you provided, they’ll appreciate this opportunity to orient themselves to the conversation.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Stick to the agenda you created. If you find yourself running behind or the discussion wanders off topic, call attention to this fact, explain that you need to move on, and make a personal note about where you’re leaving off. You can revisit unfinished business at another time or during a follow up call.
  • Bring it full circle. Before the conference call comes to a close, provide a quick review of what was discussed, including any key questions raised or decisions made.  Relate this information back to the original goal, highlighting how the call furthered this objective.

Watch the clock. Respect participants’ time by ending your call on time. Once again, if there are matters yet unresolved, add this to your notes. It is better to revisit unfinished business than to assume everyone has the availability to stay on the call indefinitely.

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