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Conference Calling 101: Best Practices Initial Call Activities Facilitating the Call - Before the Content Portion of the Meeting

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Conference  Calling  101:  Best  Practices     Jim  Rich    

Initial  Call  Activities    

• Create  an  agenda  that  includes  agenda  items,  time  allocations,  and  any  tasks  that  others   are  expected  to  perform.    

• Participation.  Clearly  state  which  of  the  invited  participants  are  required  to  attend  and   which  are  optional.  

• Expectations.  State  the  overall  outcome  and  objective  of  the  meeting.  

• Preparation.  Be  especially  clear  about  any  pre-­‐work  items  required  of  the  participants.   • Issue  invitations  with  the  conference  call's  phone  number  and  access  code.  Include  the  

agenda,  the  list  of  tasks,  and  materials.  This  ensures  that  participants  understand   expectations.    

• Make  sure  that  time  zones  and  potential  time  differences  for  the  participants  are  clearly   addressed  in  the  invitation.  For  example,  express  the  time  and  date  of  the  call  in  local   time  for  each  participant  or  list  the  locations  along  with  the  correct  time  and  date  for   the  call.    

• Schedule  a  reminder  email  the  day  before  the  call.  

• Materials.  Supply  any  necessary  materials  (handouts,  advance  reading,  etc.);  be  sure  to   include  page  numbers  for  easy  reference  during  the  conference.    

Facilitating  the  Call  -­‐  Before  the  Content  Portion  of  the  Meeting     • Start  the  call  on  time.    

• Articulate  and  speak  slowly.  

• If  the  call  is  not  recorded,  clarify  who  is  taking  the  meeting  notes.  

• Cover  the  typical  “housekeeping  items”  and  “call  etiquette”  at  the  start  of  the  meeting.   • During  the  first  few  minutes  before  muting  the  participants,  ask  for  feedback  about  how  

the  call  sounds,  if  the  sound  is  too  loud  or  low,  or  if  there  are  technical  issues,  etc.     • Double  check  that  attendees  have  received  all  meeting  materials  prior  to  the  call.   • Announce  the  intent  about  muting  the  call  and  what  is  planned  in  that  regard:  

o Will  the  organizer  force  “mute”  the  call  or  will  participants  be  responsible  for   muting  individual  phones?  

o Identify  when  participants  can  expect  to  be  “unmuted”.  A  common  

recommendation  is  to  unmute  every  15  minutes,  or  so,  to  ensure  there  are  no   urgent  communications  such  as:  please  talk  louder;  go  slower  or  faster,  or  that   there  is  confusion,  etc.  

o Instruct  participants  when  questions  are  expected  to  be  asked,  that  might   include;  that  it  is  okay  to  interject  questions  throughout  the  call,  or  to  ask  at   periodic  breaking  points,  or  only  at  the  end.  

• Let  everyone  know  if  there  will  be  breaks.  This  is  usually  done  when  meetings  are  over   one  hour.  

• Treat  all  participants  with  respect  and  formality  just  like  face-­‐to-­‐face  meetings.  

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Facilitating  the  Call  -­‐  During  the  Content  Portion  of  the  Meeting  

• At  the  start  of  the  meeting,  state  the  meeting  agenda,  outcomes  and  objectives.   • Stick  to  the  agenda.  If  the  discussion  goes  off  track,  guide  it  back  to  the  topic  at  hand.     • “Park”  off-­‐topic  points  and  promise  the  participants  that  if  time  allows  they  will  be  

discussed  at  the  end  of  the  conference  call  or  to  schedule  the  topic  for  the  next   teleconference.    

• Use  the  “Check-­‐In”  approach  (short)  pauses  during  discussions  and  between  topics  that   will  allow  participants  to  synthesize  and  reflect  on  the  content.  

• Use  the  “Check-­‐In”  to  summarize  key  topics  that  help  clarifies  those  points  to   participants.    

• In  an  unmuted  conference  call  or  if  the  call  is  supported  with  SMS  texting,  periodically   ask  attendees  for  questions  or  comments  and  inquire  if  an  explanation  is  required  to   ensure  comprehension  of  topics.  

• If  using  SMS  texting  always  restate  the  message  for  the  entire  group.  

• At  the  end  of  the  meeting,  conduct  a  Q  &  A  session.  Summarize  the  response  to  the   questions.  

• After  a  review  of  questions  describe  any  follow  up  steps,  if  appropriate.  

• Also  at  the  end,  summarize  the  calls  key  points  based  on  the  previously  stated  agenda,   outcomes,  and  objectives.  

• End  the  call  on  time.  Ending  the  call  on  tome  shows  participants  that  the  facilitator   respects  the  participant’s  time.  When  attendees  consistently  see  that  conference  calls   start  and  end  on  time,  they  know  what  to  expect  during  future  calls.    

Meeting  Etiquette  for  the  Host/Facilitator  -­‐  At  Meeting  Time  

Announce  yourself.  As  soon  as  you've  heard  that  others  have  joined  the  call,  greet   them.  "This  is  David  Smith  in  the  Chicago  conference  room.  We'll  be  starting  in  a  few   minutes."  

Greet  others.  As  you  get  an  indication  that  someone  has  joined,  be  proactive  in   acknowledging  him  or  her.  If  you  know  who  they  are,  say,  "Hello  Bill,  this  is  David.  We   haven't  started  yet.  I'll  do  a  roll  call  in  about  two  minutes."  If  you  don't  know  who  just   joined,  say,  "This  is  David  in  Chicago.  Who  just  joined?"  and  then  let  them  know  your   status  and  plan.    

Call  the  meeting  to  order.  "We're  ready  to  start.  This  is  David  Smith;  here  in  the  Chicago   conference  room  we  have  Bill  Jones,  Beth  Cobb,  Todd  Murphy,  and  Susan  Foster.  On  the   phone  are  Fred  Lewis,  Sandy  Moen  and  John  Simmons.  Elton  Webster  left  me  a  note   saying  he'd  be  joining  around  10:30.  Did  I  miss  anybody?"  

Announce  breaks.  These  should  be  planned  into  the  agenda  of  lengthy  meetings.  Let   people  on  the  phone  know  what's  happening.  Some  examples:  "We're  going  to  break   for  10  minutes  to  grab  a  sandwich.  The  meeting  will  start  again  at  12:20."  Then:  "Almost   everybody  is  back.  We'll  start  in  three  minutes."  "Susan  got  called  out  of  the  room  and   she  needs  to  be  present  for  this  part  of  the  meeting.  Stand  by  while  I  find  out  how  long   she'll  be  away."  

Keep  track  of  time.  Watch  the  clock  and  watch  the  agenda.  Announce  your  intentions.   For  example:  "We're  running  about  20  minutes  behind.  Does  anybody  have  a  problem   extending  the  meeting  until  1:30?"  Or,  "We're  out  of  time  for  this  agenda  item.  I'd  like   to  propose  a  separate  session  on  this  topic.  I'll  get  a  note  out  this  afternoon  to  set  that   up."  

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Conference  Participants  Responsibilities  

• As  a  participant,  be  prepared!  Review  any  previously  sent  agenda  items  or  notes  and   have  materials  needed  for  the  meeting  pulled  out  in  advance  and  within  reach.   • Call  in  on  time,  preferably  a  minute  or  two  before  the  teleconference's  start  time.     • Say  your  name  before  speaking,  so  that  other  participants  know  who  is  speaking.     • Be  aware  of  how  external  noises  can  disrupt  the  call  for  others.    

• Call  in  from  a  quiet  location  using  a  good  quality  phone.    

• Remove  other  distractions  such  as  ringing  phones,  barking  dogs,  slamming  doors,  calling   from  public  places  such  as  a  car  on  a  busy  street,  airport  or  a  restaurant.  

• Turn  off  anything  that  makes  noise  including  computer  speakers,  radios,  TVs,  PDAs,   bubbling  fountains,  and  other  devices.    

• Use  the  mute  button  on  the  phone  when  not  speaking.  Make  sure  to  un-­‐mute  the  call   when  it's  your  turn  to  speak.    

• Never  put  the  conference  call  on  hold,  especially  if  the  phone  system  has  a  "music  on   hold"  feature.    

• If  other  people  are  present  in  the  room,  don't  hold  separate  conversations  with  other   people.    

• Use  a  noise-­‐canceling  headset  if  you  have  one.  If  not  speak  into  the  handset  of  your   phone  when  it's  your  turn  to  speak  rather  than  using  a  speakerphone.    

For  High-­‐stakes  Calls  Develop  an  Advanced  Agenda  

• For  high-­‐stakes  calls  the  speaker,  facilitator,  or  meeting  organizer,  should  use  the  initial   agenda  as  a  framework  to  develop  a  more  advanced  set  of  talking  points  that  details:  

o  More  in-­‐depth  information  of  what  is  intended  to  be  discussed   o The  order  of  sub-­‐topics  

o Specific  interactions  taken  by  the  presenter  during  the  call   o The  frequency  of  interactions  during  the  session    

• A  well-­‐designed  and  in-­‐depth  set  of  talking  points  promotes  a  successful  conference  call.  This   approach  creates  the  opportunity  to  create  short  strategic  pauses  in  the  conference  called  a   “Check-­‐In”.    

• The  “Check-­‐In”  allows  small  chunks  of  information  to  be  intellectually  digested  by   participants.    

• The  small  chunks  of  information  are  discussed  just  before  the  “Check-­‐In  ”  point  on  an  agenda.     • Knowing  the  order  of  main  and  sub-­‐topics  due  to  an  advanced  agenda  allows  the  facilitator  to  

identify  natural  points  of  when  to  pause  and  provide  a  “Check-­‐In”  for  call  participants.  

• Ideally,  “Check-­‐In’s”,  should  be  placed  every  4  to  6  minutes  during  the  call.  This  type  of  pacing   strategically  places  “Check-­‐in’s”  and  or  other  audience  interactions  (such  as  questions  or   comments)  into  the  conference  call.    

• Muted  and  unmuted  calls  should  be  developed  with  “Check-­‐Ins”  in  mind.  

• Advanced  agendas  are  also  used  for  unmuted  calls  to  allow  the  speaker  to  develop  better   audience  interactions,  questions  and  comments  that  can  take  place  during  the  call.   • Review  and  practice  using  the  advanced  agenda  to  ensure  delivery  is  logical  and  sounds  

natural.  

• An  advanced  agenda  ensures  beforehand  that  the  pacing  and  most  interactions  of  the   call  will  be  thoughtful  and  timely  with  goal  to  have  a  clear  and  understandable  message   for  participants.  

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Source:  

Best  Practice  Conference  Calls  –  Be  at  Your  Best  On  Your  Next  Conference  Call  

By  Brandon  Munro  and  Gihan  Perera  

First  Step  Publishing  

Conference  Call  Best  Practices  by  ZipDX    

http://www.zipdx.com/showcase/conf_best_practices.php  

BT  Meet  Me  Global  Access  Support    

http://www.btconferencing.com/products-­‐and-­‐services/bt-­‐meetme-­‐audio-­‐conferencing/best-­‐practices/  

Conducting  Effective  Conference  Calls  by  Express  Connect  

http://www.expressconnectinc.com/best-­‐practices.php  

Surviving  the  Conference  Call  Battlefield:  Skills  and  Strategies  for  Successful  Small     Group  Phone  Conferencing  –  Part  II  

http://columbia.patch.com/groups/mark-­‐gorkins-­‐blog/p/bp-­‐-­‐surviving-­‐the-­‐conference-­‐call-­‐ battlefield-­‐skills-­‐f45a05bac3  

   

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