Way back when, like a month ago, conference calls were used to unite offices far flung around the globe, to chat with a consultant like me or to circle up a team when everyone was travelling. Now – boom – the conference call is how you communicate with the person you used to see at the coffee pot in the office. Seemingly overnight, the phrase “Be quiet – I’m getting on my WebEx/Zoom/Skype – insert your platform” is uttered multiple times a day. These are indeed bizarre times, so allow me to offer 10 suggestions on how to navigate conference call conundrums.
- Don’t Start Meetings at the Top of the Hour: With EVERYONE on back-to- back calls, starting at call at 10 minutes after the hour gives people time to use the bathroom, re-direct a kid’s activity or let the dog out. This also may help with people joining late and breaking up meeting flow.
- Do Intros and Check Ins: Yes time is precious, but don’t forget about relationships. See how everyone is faring in these strange days, and get to know their new “office mates” – a.k.a. the kids making noise in the background or the barking dog.
- Provide Amazon Amnesty: The doorbell ALWAYS rings when you are on a call saying something brilliant, so let everyone know there’s no need to apologize. This could also be called “Dishwasher Dispensation” if your dishwasher is as loud as our old one that sounded like a helicopter taking off at certain points during the wash cycle.
- Be “Mute Nimble.” Knowing how to mute and unmute deftly will make you popular so YOU are not the person responsible for all that background noise or static when you are not speaking (see #3 about the loud dishwasher).
- Play Conference Call Bingo: Keep your sense of humor by issuing “bingo” cards to team members. Phrases like “Who just joined?”, “Sorry, it’s still loading” and “Can you hear me now?” are staples for a game like this. Award a prize, but not one so nice people won’t focus on actual call content.
- Offer Strategic Camera Timing: It is good to see our colleagues’ faces but also realize that most everyone’s sleep schedules are out of kilter. Expecting people to be “camera ready” at 7:30 a.m. is a little tough. You’ll be a star if you say “we’ll use video features for conferencing after 10 a.m.”
- Keep it Short. I get there is a lot to discuss and process, but doing so in bite-sized chunks will help people stay focused, and also help them manage child care, elder care or whatever other dynamics are happening under their roof as they juggle life in this new way. A best practice is to keep calls to 45 minutes or less.
- Smile. In media training sessions I teach, I coach people to smile while on the phone as it really does make a difference in how you come across to others, regardless if they can actually see your face.
- Use people’s names. Being sure everyone is participating is important, so ask for people’s thoughts by name. Let people know up front that you’ll be calling on everyone to comment on agenda topics so they are tuned in and ready to contribute. Sidebar: Limit the people on the call to those who REALLY need to be there.
- Watch a “Conference Call in Real Life” on YouTube! Join more than 18 million other people who have laughed along at and related to this “real life” conference call filmed in 2014 that is more applicable today than ever.
Click. Kenda has left the meeting.