Conference calls serve a variety of purposes. They allow for quick, democratic decision-making and last minute debriefing. Among friends and family, they make staying in touch easier. Regardless of the purpose, conference calls bridge big distances and save time. That is, so long as they run smoothly.
The push towards virtualization in today’s modern office enables workforces to work remotely. It equips them with the tools to do more with fewer physical resources. Conference calling is one such telephony tool. It promotes collaboration and accommodates busy schedules. After all, getting a few people on the phone is less of a hassle than arranging an in-person meeting.
Today, most hosted PBX systems boast free conferencing facilities. With cheap local and toll-free numbers, said systems cater to dispersed workforces. This includes international ones. In fact, for internal usage—people under the central phone system—conferencing is typically free. Nevertheless, impromptu conference calls are not a good use of time. They need extensive planning to benefit all parties involved.
Conferencing Challenges and How to Thwart Them
The virtual meeting promises an array of benefits, but it is also inherently problematic. Without physical oversight, distractions are inevitable. Blame smartphones, web browsers and email. Conference calls lack the visual cues associated with traditional board meetings. As a result, participants' attention may stray after a while. Tackle this issue with strong preparation, leadership and support.
Prepare for Success
As the conference leader, you are responsible for more things than just hosting the call. You must adopt the persona of an active presenter as opposed to a passive one. Your roles extend beyond inviting, greeting and listening. They include intervening and guiding—two tasks that require extensive preparation to do well.
When inviting members to a conference call, simply scheduling a time and date is not sufficient. You need to communicate your expectations. To do so, draft supporting materials like an agenda or handout. Moreover, design visuals and distribute them as links or attachments. Doing so a few days before the meeting will help guests familiarize themselves with the format and subject matter of the conference call.
In regards to assembling the guest list, walk through the following steps:
- Identify conference call participants and prioritize their attendance;
- Contact the most important individuals to iron out scheduling conflicts;
- Invite all other participants via email or telephone once a date has been set;
- Provide each member with the number extension and pin once they've RSVPed. Most facilities are password protected as to grant the leader control over who enters and leaves the room.
When contacting guests, be specific about the nature of the call. Outline every minute as to allow them to assess its usefulness and relevance before committing. Worst case, you can then revise the plan for better efficiency. A typical minutes sheet breaks the conference into sections and lists the key points below each. A thoroughly agenda will even appoint topic experts. Adopt the formula below if unsure how to organize a meeting.
Conference Call Agenda
Introduction (8:45am to 8:50am) - Mark
- Welcome guests
- Launch slideshow
Topic One (8:50am to 9am) – Jonathan
- Point One
- Point Two
- Point Three
- Objective ...
Topic Two (9am to 9:10am) – Delaney
Break (9:10am to 9:15am)
Topic Three (9:15am to 9:25am) – Jessica
Conclusion (9:25am to 9:30am) – Mark
- Thank you
- Follow up instructions
As mentioned, slideshows via PowerPoint or Prezi presentations should go out last. Sending such files a few days beforehand serves as a reminder. Not to mention, it ensures the content is fresh in each callers' mind.
Do not feel obligated to make such visuals. A simple PDF could suffice with a diagram or two. After all, you want it to support not take over the call. As well, you want to keep the call as concise and straightforward as possible—no extraneous information.