Effective Conference Call Meetings

There is nothing that I hate more than being on a call for 5 minutes before it starts only to have it break down into a chat-fest in the location of origin where people talk over each other and you can not make out what they say or who is talking.  Sometimes it seems that they forget you are even on the phone and begin to talk in a lower voice.

In order to prevent this from happening, I have some tips and suggestions gathered from my year of having many conference call type meetings per day. 

Here are my suggestions to keep these meetings run effectively;

1) Begin every call with a quick round of self introductions so that everyone can find out who is present and hear everyone else’s voice.  That way is someone is not talking loud enough they can be moved closer to the speaker phone.

2) Enforce the rule of “one speaker at a time.”  If the conversation breaks down to the point that there are sidebar conversations or worse, multiple conversations, then control needs to be brought back to the meeting before it can ruin the meeting and everyone loses focus.  Control could be kept by commenting on issues being discussed not on topic in the following manner; If someone introduces an idea that seems unrelated, say, “That sounds interesting. How does that relate to the issue?”  If it does not relate it should be dropped or discussed in another meeting.

3) Insist that people announce when they join or leave the meeting unless they arrive late.  If that is the case they should wait for the chair of the meeting to ask who joined.  It is always polite to announce when you have to leave a meeting so that no one will be calling for you, not knowing where you are or when you left.  And if people have to leave during the meeting, by announcing it, it allows the chair to gain closure on any issues that they participated in before they leave.  Reminding someone who is leaving a meeting of an assigned task not only reminds that person by also the minute taker and the rest of the people on the call.

4)  Take minutes of the meeting.  Taking minutes encourages people to make meaningful comments. Of course, it can be difficult chairing the meeting and taking minutes at the same time.  Get help if needed.

5) Get the meeting participants to get used to stating their names before they speak.  This helps everyone know that you are speaking.

6) If you are speaking on your desk phone, use the handset instead of the speakerphone. A speakerphone, while useful, distorts your voice, picks up background sounds (like you typing on your computer), and makes a poor impression on everyone on the call. If you must have both hands free while you talk, I recommend a headset.  If you must do work at your computer and you will be typing, put the call on mute when you are not speaking because that distracts others and gives the impression you are not paying attention.

7) Speak clearly right into the phone in order to make sure that you are understood. Take the extra effort to enunciate carefully and speak slowly. Of course, you want to sound natural.

Bonus note:  When stating numbers, write them out while you speak because that defines the rate at which everyone else is capturing them.

How to start conference call meetings on time!

If you work in an environment where the majority of your meetings are via conference call, you find there is always a delay in getting the meeting started because there is a reminder sent out via email 5 minutes before the meeting and then if that reminder is snoozed, the next reminder comes at the time the meeting is scheduled to begin.  Leaving to call in at that point would make you late.  So if you are chairing the meeting, you wind up penalizing those who came prepared to start at the start time while waiting for the stragglers.

Here are some of my suggestions for starting meetings on time!

1) Plan for it. Put the arrival time on the agenda. For example, for a meeting scheduled to start at 9:00 AM, you could put “8:50 AM – – – Arrive at the Meeting” at the top of the agenda. An arrival time is useful because it allows everyone time to socialize, obtain coffee, or organize materials before the meeting. It also ensures everyone is present at the scheduled starting time.

2) Set an example. Dial in to meetings you schedule before they are scheduled to start.  Use this time to chat with the early birds and allow them to ask questions prior to the meeting that thy may be afraid to ask in a big group.  And you can greet the attendees as they arrive. This helps you appear in control of the meeting process from the beginning. And of course, arrive at everyone else’s meetings on time.

3) Make it easy. Schedule your meetings to begin at odd times, such as 9:10 AM. This allows everyone who was in a one-hour meeting that began at 8:00 AM to run to the bathroom, check their email and put out any fires before jumping on your call.  Similarly, end your meetings at least ten minutes before the next hour so that the attendees have time to do the same before their next meeting.

4) Promote punctuality. Send a memo or an email stressing the importance of arriving on time. Call key attendees to remind them about the starting time for the meeting.  Try to find some reason to be on time, such as asking a senior level executive to make an opening remark, then allowing them to drop off the call, because they are busy, and it sets the tone from the top.

5) Expect promptness. If the meeting is for your team only, you can tell people that they are expected to be on time and tie it into their performance appraisls, or ask your manager to stress it from one level above.  Similarly, arrive on time to demonstrate your commitment.

6) Be realistic. Realize that some people are beyond coaching because of their attitude or relationship with you. Also, recognize that it is impossible to guarantee that everyone will always arrive on time at every meeting. There will always be emergencies, surprises, and those few who refuse to cooperate.

To make this approach the norm you need buy-in from senior management. 

Good luck!

Ford turned a profit

Looks like people were pleasantly surprised to see that Ford Motor Company turned a profit in the last quarter of a billion dollars.


Surprised?  Really?

Closing plants, removing over-paid unionized workers and rolling back their salaries on it’s own should have made the difference.  Selling a few extra cars in tough economic times certainly helped. 

I believe that I wrote a post last year stating that all the big 3 car companies would be forced under unless they were able to free the grip the auto workers union have on them. 

Maybe I do know something after all.