Conference Calls

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“Thank you for joining this conference call.  If you are the leader of this call, please enter your Leader PIN now…”
Conference calls are an important part of modern business communication, and they can be a valuable method of group communication if planned and executed carefully.  Done poorly, however, they are a communication abyss that drives participants to mute their line, multi-task, and stop paying attention.

To help your conference calls excel, these top tips are a great starting point.  To get even more value from your conference calls, The Professional Communicators have complete interactive and iterative programs to make your conference calls the best-in-industry.
I.  Open with a definitive statement of the call’s purpose

“Thank you for joining today’s call where our primary objective is to _ _ _ _ _ _.”
This sets expectations and establishes boundaries that maintain the focus of the call.  If at some point you find the call veering off track, you can refer back to your clearly stated objective to rein in the conversation.
II.  Present an agenda with estimated timestamps. 

“To most efficiently accomplish this call’s objectives, we are going to spend the first (x) minutes reviewing _ _ _ _ _, the next (x) minutes discussing _ _ _ _ _, and the last (x) minutes getting an update from the on-site team before wrapping it up and assigning action items.”
III.  Signpost as your agenda unfolds. 

“That wraps up our second segment, let’s now turn our attention to _ _ _ _ _.”
This seemingly small addition is essential to advertise the call’s progress and give it a sense of forward momentum.  It also overtly alerts participants to topic changes and invites them to re-engage.
IV.  Coordinate with content contributors in advance and shift the spotlight to different participants throughout the call. 

Running a good offense requires all your players to be at the right place at the right time and to understand their responsibilities.  A conference call is no different.  Coordinate with your contributors to ensure they know their responsibilities, both for their planned content as well as the types of questions they will handle.  During the call, don’t hesitate to solicit on-the-fly feedback and contributions from a diverse cross-section of participants.
V.  Create a “parking lot” for off-topic issues. 

“This is a very important subject, but it’s a bit outside the purpose of this call.  I’ve noted it, and I will schedule another call with the relevant stakeholders to further explore that idea.”
This approach establishes a system of tracking off-topic issues with clear appreciation and follow-up.  It doesn’t dismiss the idea nor speaker, yet it also maintains the original call’s focus.
VI.  Produce ‘wordless’ visuals that reinforce call objectives. 

Should the call be accompanied by a shared slide deck or screen, it is especially important to display visual information that reinforces, not repeats, the call’s content.  Duplicating spoken content in shared slides invites participants to read ahead and tune out the spoken content.  If disseminating known information is the goal, then ask yourself if another mode of communication other than a conference call would be more appropriate.
Conference calls can be an effective way to include multiple stakeholders without the formality and expense of an in-person meeting.  To achieve their objectives, however, conference calls must be carefully planned and executed. Don't leave your conference calls to chance.