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.