Many of us now routinely hold meetings with our staff or customers over the phone. Here are some key tips for a successful meeting via teleconference:
Before the Call
1. Have an Agenda: what is the purpose of the meeting? Do you really need to have a meeting, or will an email do? If you do need a meeting, prepare like you would for a Toastmasters meeting, with a clear purpose and an organized agenda.
2. Send All Handouts Beforehand: every participant should have everything they need in front of them. Collect all handouts from the speakers beforehand. Attach the handouts, call-in information, and an agenda to the calendar invite for the meeting.
3. Get a Scribe: Before the call, ask one of the participants to take notes. Tell them you would like them to send a meeting recap email to all participants that includes a one-paragraph summary of the meeting and a bullet list of action items to follow-up on.
During the Call
1. Get off to a good start: Just like a Toastmasters meeting, a conference call should have a clearly defined structure: who is on the call, the purpose of the call, the agenda, and how long the call will go for. Then, get to the body of the meeting, introducing each person on the agenda. Finally, end with a conclusion. Summarize what was discussed, what was decided, and a what are the agreed-upon action items.
2. Remind Participants of Good Etiquette: people on a conference call cannot see each other’s body language or faces. That makes it difficult to know who is talking and when someone is finished. Remind participants to (a) mute their phone when not speaking, (b) take turns speaking and don’t talk over one another, (c) briefly introduce yourself before making a comment (“This is Nate. I was thinking…”), so the scribe and participants know who is talking.
3. Use Vocal Variety: people on a conference call cannot see you. Your voice is all you have, so use it well. Vary your volume, pitch, and rate. Be expressive enough to keep your listeners interest, but don’t overdo it. Constructive pauses can help emphasize your points and allow others to respond. And smile when you talk. People cannot see your smile, but they will be able to hear it in your voice.
4. Take Notes and Monitor Time: your scribe will take notes, but as the leader, you should also write down any decisions made or actions agreed upon. And make sure to keep things moving, so you can end on time. “This is Nate. Let’s table this discussion until our next meeting…” is a great way to move to the next item on the agenda.
5. Know When to Quit: many conference calls run over time. Set an alarm for yourself to go off 5 minutes before the call is scheduled to end. When it goes off, say to the group, “This is Nate. We agreed to end at X, which is in five minutes. I want to respect everyone’s time.” Often, it’s a good idea to then ask the group whether to end on time or continue the discussion. If you will lose some people who have full schedules, it may be best to stop the meeting on time.
6. Summarize and Conclude: using your notes, summarize the key points. Be sure to clarify the specific action items: who, what, and by when. If there is going to be a follow-up call, you may want to schedule the time and date while people are on the line. Thank everyone for their time and end with an inspiring quote, challenge, or call to action.
After the Call
1. Send a Meeting Recap: Phew! The call is done. Time to go catch up on your email and get the rest of your work done, right? No. Make sure you or the scribe send out a recap with the action items ASAP and no later than the same-day. Real work happens between meetings and follow-up is key.
2. (Optional) Agenda for the Next Meeting: while the action items and decisions are fresh in your mind, send out the meeting invite for the next meeting with an agenda. That way, you can be sure to keep the ball rolling.
For more tips, see “Master the Teleconference” in the April 2010 issue of Toastmaster.
Nate Rosenberg, President
Chamber Voices Toastmasters