The very first conference call that I ever facilitated was a complete disaster: the WebEx link didn’t work, a toilet was heard flushing in the background, and the agenda was overtaken by an agitated member of the R&D department. It was 60 minutes of sheer discomfort, probably for everyone on the line. It also validated my preexisting fear of work phone calls, which was especially unfortunate because this particular call was the first in a weekly series for the project.
My favorite marketing manager Tara pulled me aside later that day to give me some feedback: “Colleen, it’s your responsibility to facilitate and make sure that the group sticks to the agenda. Don’t be intimidated by the levels or experience of the people on the call: they need and expect you to lead them through it.”
It was great feedback, and thanks to that much-needed intervention, I took steps to be over-prepared for every subsequent call. It helped me to get over my discomfort, and I still follow the same three steps to prepare for every call or meeting I host today:
#1 Create an agenda with a clear meeting purpose, agenda and intended outcomes.
Before the call, think through the objectives you have, and who needs to be present to help meet those objectives. Make sure each person invited to the meeting either has something to contribute or will benefit from participating. Consider what priorities they may have related to your objectives that you can also help to address during the call.
In the meeting invite, draft a message with the meeting purpose articulated in sentence or two. Include an outline of the agenda with suggestions of who might have thoughts/input on each topic, and the time allotted to discuss each item. Summarize the intended outcomes of the meeting. This accomplishes a few things:
- It gives the participants context, and encourages attendance from those who see their names on the agenda.
- It provides you a tool to use during the call to control timing on each topic – I routinely jump into the discussion when I see it digressing by saying: “Sorry, quick time check here – we have three topics to go and just 20 minutes left. Do you mind taking this offline so we can end this call on time?”
- It enables you to recap the decisions and action items at the end of the meeting, assess whether the intended outcomes were met, and determine follow ups.
#2 Test out the dial-in, WebEx and other call logistics at least 30 minutes ahead of time.
You need at least 30 minutes to test that everything is working correctly and give yourself some time to fix any issues. For example, learning how to mute all participants, mute one participant, assign presenter rights, etc. are critical things to know in order to host an effective virtual meeting. Most conferencing services have a list of keypad shortcuts to make this easy, and for most of them (Verizon, WebEx, Lync, etc.) you can just Google to find these. I typically dial into my own conference calls 30 minutes ahead of time to test the dial-in, passcode, presentation quality, etc. to make sure everything is running smoothly – and it gives me a window of time to call the conferencing help line if I run into issues!
#3 If you called the meeting, remember that you are in charge of making it an effective use of everyone’s time.
This means facilitating the discussion, being the timekeeper, stepping in to move the group to the next agenda item when appropriate, and recapping the outcomes, follow up items, etc. Whenever possible, send out a recap email of the meeting to all participants – I generally keep my notes to myself, but send along the key decisions, follow ups/action items and owners to everyone on the call. Keep the note short and simple: “Thank you all for your time at today’s XYZ meeting. For your reference, below I’ve outlined the decisions we made during our discussion this afternoon. Please reply all if you see anything that was missed or captured incorrectly.”
If you did not call the meeting, remember that you are responsible for understanding the meeting purpose, agenda, outcomes and your role at the meeting. If you need to contribute, prepare notes, questions and considerations ahead of time.
Do you have any tips that help make work phone calls or virtual meetings more effective? Please leave your ideas in the comments below!
By Colleen Bordeaux
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Featured Image on the left shot by Leo Krumbacher for Grazia Germany, Image on the right shot by Chris Craymer for Glamour UK