Communicating as a Leader

Better Communication Skills — Three Tips for Conference Calls

Tom O\’Dea asked:

The conference call has been a way of life in business for many years now.  So why are so many frustrating, ineffective calls being held every day?  This simple list of reminders is intended to help keep conference calls from becoming wasted time. 

No multi tasking — I’ve been guilty on this count, I must admit.  But if you force yourself to follow a no multi tasking rule, you get another benefit.  You’re force to confront the question of whether the conference call is an effective use of your time.  It’s easy to say yes if you’re thinking you can appease someone while you do your email.  But if the call isn’t worth your time, you need to speak up and say so.

It’s a meeting, so treat it like one.  The call should have a clear PAL (Purpose, Agenda, Limit).  Participants should be invited, and attendance taken.  Be clear about who is leading the call.  Start on time.  The leader needs to keep the call/meeting on track, and document actions taken and follow up activities (who, what, by when).  End on time.  Send an email with the documented action items promptly, preferably before you do anything else.

Test for agreement.  In face to face meetings, body language and facial expressions provide clues as to whether people are engaged in the topic, even if they choose to remain silent.  Not so on a phone call, and while we’d like to live by a rule of silence equals acceptance, that’s dangerous.  If the number of participants is reasonable, call the roll so everyone has to say yes or no on key decisions.  Beware of voice inflections that indicate uncertainty, and tactfully call them out. 


Avoid ex partee one to one conversations after a conference call, especially the kind where someone calls you right away to express their frustration or anger.  On the other hand, if you’re leading a call and you’re convinced that someone has been disenfranchised or needs some help dealing with a topic, go ahead and reach out to them. 

One more point — the speakerphone is a great invention.  But poor quality speakerphones can really bog down a call.  People end up talking over one another and sometimes don’t even know it.  It can lead to repetition and frustration.  If you’re relying on speaker phones, get high quality equipment.  Otherwise encourage people to use handsets or headsets.

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