In the day and age of high-end communication technology, most organisations are trying to cut travel expenses and save time by organizing conference calls which are a means of conducting business, update each other and even learn. But though conference calls are aplenty, many organizations feel that their conference calls are usually chaotic and counter- productive. Though an easy convenient option for many, conference calls can be hard to run and even harder to stay engaged in if you are a participant.
It is fact that communication impact is based primarily on three factors – visual, vocal and type of content. For shorter communication span of 2-5 minutes, visual factor is the most important and type of content is the least. Content becomes more important for longer communication like written communication such as email or test documents. But it seldom attains an effective impact of not supplemented by visual or vocal re-enforcement.
Email is primarily content based, with text constituting most written communication. There is some opportunity for an exchange through questions and clarifications, but it is very limited. Voice creates a huge impact. With phone conversations, vocal tone adds impact to the communication. Compared to email, it adds some added intimacy especially if the group is small and participants have a chance to actively partake in the conversation. One-on-one calls increase communication intimacy. Video conferencing further adds some visual communication intimacy. The face-to-face in small groups or one-on-one provides the opportunity for the highest communication intimacy and impact – but is also the hardest to arrange in the current corporate scenario where employees working on the same project often work from different offices.
1. It pays to be prepared as a Presenter: Conference calls will be more effective if you take extra effort in planning and preparing for your conference call. Unlike a face-to-face meeting, you will not have the benefit of visual and non-verbal communication. You will not be able to see who is talking, who is paying attention, who looks like they want to say something, and who needs to be who needs to be encouraged to contribute pay more attention. So in a conference call, your voice has to do all the work. If you are speaking, you need to make an extra effort sound more animated, articulate your words more precisely. Many successful presenters swear by the practice of making speaker notes beforehand that lets them steer the discussion in the right direction and makes sure that there are ample relief moments in between like light jokes or interesting fact shares and so on. This helps the audiences remain engaged.
2. It pays to give extra efforts as a Participant: While the presenter comes prepared for a conference call, the participants too should work harder to focus and stay engaged. Many participants find themselves playing games or working on something else while on a conference call. This takes away from the desired impact of the call. It is best to clear schedule for a pre-arranged conference call and take time out exclusively for it. Since most calls are an opportunity for elearning, it is best to take notes wherever necessary and diligent participants can share these on social collaboration platforms with their fellow peers who are not able to join. Not only does this help out a fellow employee, it also is a way of increasing comradery as well as a means of revising the knowledge gathered.
3. What’s in store for me? It is best to set up expectations out of a conference call because setting up too many conference calls is not the right approach. Ask yourself these questions before sending out that conference invite –
• Does everyone need to participate in the entire conference call?
• Should someone just make a decision and move on?
• Can the information be communicated in another way?
• Is this a routine meeting where most participants are joining because it’s mandatory?
• Can the call be done in half the time?
It’s vital to let all conference call participants know what is expected from them. Send an Agenda and any supporting documents before the conference call with the expectation that participants familiarise themselves with the material.
4. Mind your manners: Manners and etiquettes are very important in a conference call even when you can’t see each other. For presenters as well as participants, it is important to maintain decorum through the course of the call to ensure its impact.
• Participants and presenter should be on time. Marking the call within the work schedule helps taking time out for it.
• Presenter and participant should come prepared.
• One speaker should be allowed to speak at a time. Let the presenter take the lead and assign talking time to every participant who wishes to share.
• Do not indulge in side conversations while others are speaking, not only is it distracting, it’s also bad manners.
• Establish your identity by telling your name aloud before speaking.
• Silence your mobile phones and avoid working on your computer or checking e-mail and so on.
5. Take external factors into account: It is best to get familiar with available equipment, for both participants as well as presenter. Test it before an important conference call if you haven’t used it before. Participants should learn how to utilize the ‘mute’ function to eliminate background sound into the call. Take care not to disrupt the call with pressing wrong buttons or letting the annoying background music interrupt the call. Speakers should take care not to be too far away from the microphone when speaking. Finally, use a land line if available because mobiles and even cordless phones can cause extra noise which can disrupt the flow of a conference call.
While it’s easy for conference calls to lose focus and fail to create an impactful learning opportunity, it is also easy to keep them on track for successful results. Presenters or another designated person can interject from time to time and keep matters on track. They can create a summary of important facts learnt or issues resolved and share within stipulated time. Participants can read these and come prepared for follow up calls and successfully sustain the impact of the call. With easy access of required equipment, conference calls are easily fixed up and conducted. With a little more effort, their success can be assured as well.