We have all at some point following a conference call thought "well, that took longer than it should have!"
Conference calls are a great way of organising a meeting and are often the only option when working from home.
Even when operating from the workplace, they can save travel time and cost while allowing you to take advantage of the technology available to put together great looking presentations and clearly demonstrate where necessary.
But they’re not always as effective as they could be and are actually one of the biggest culprits when it comes to eating into your working hours.
In fact, when it comes to improving productivity, reducing time wasted in meetings and conference calls should be one of the first places you start!
So, here’s some tips for having time-effective and productive conference calls!
Start with the right tools
We’ve all experienced it when using new conference calling software before, that first 15 minutes is usually spent figuring out how to get the microphone working or how to get everyone to dial in.
Thankfully, there’s a few platforms out there that make this all very easy.
If you’ve already got software you’re happy with that everyone is comfortable using, then stick to that. This section is for those who are still trying to get past that “is my mic on?” stage.
This is one of the most popular platforms for simply just having a virtual get-together.
All you need is a Gmail account and you can conference call with up to 25 people via video and audio, while you can also set up a 150-person text chat.
You can also call phone numbers from Google Hangouts too, meaning not all of your participants need a Gmail account, however this is only for audio-conferencing and can’t be done for video calls. This service is free too!
Hangouts can be used from any device with a microphone and camera that can access the site or app.
Much like Hangouts, Skype lets you host video, audio and text conferences for up to 25 people who also have Skype for free.
Skype is ideal for a quick and easy start. If you’re on a Windows device, you should already have Skype installed as an app. You can use the app or the web-based version. If you haven’t already got the app installed, downloading it doesn’t take long at all.
You can also call phone numbers through Skype too but at a cost. Alternatively, if the person you’re calling is able to use Skype through a web browser or download the app, it’s free to contact them.
Horizon is one of the more advanced options when it comes to connecting everyone in the business together while working from home.
Useful features include being able to connect your work phone extension number, a useful app that allows you to take the service anywhere with you, and of course the ability to set up seamless conference calls with your team.
While it does cost, you might find that because Horizon has so many features, it may actually negate the need for other services that you currently pay for, and so it may be a more cost-effective solution to what you currently have in place. With this in mind, it could be even more cost-effective than implementing free conference calling software.
GoToMeeting is one of the best conference calling platforms if you’re willing to spend a bit of money.
It has both free and premium versions, but while the premium version has lots of great features, the free version is more than sufficient for your conference calling needs and still offers some very useful features.
With the free version, your meetings are limited to 3 people, however there’s a handy Google Chrome extension and it’s great for screensharing.
The premium version opens up a whole load of features including conference calls with up to 250 people, the option to record meetings and drawing and key sharing options for those conference calls that require a bit more interactivity.
Your conference call checklist
While some of these are specific to just conference calls, these can be used for just about any meeting to make sure everything on the agenda is discussed and the meeting is as effective as it can be!
Before starting the call
Decide on the right software – Your first priority should be software that is suitable for everyone to maximise participation. The selection of software might be out of your control as a reader and if so you can ignore this step, but do feedback if the software isn’t for you!
Be clear about the software to everyone involved – Make sure everyone is aware of the software you’re using and that they have the user guide.
If there’s a YouTube video on how to use the software, send that out. A video is much more visual and can often explain things a lot better than a user guide!
Here’s an example of one for GoToMeeting.
Schedule the first call 15 minutes earlier than usual – Even after reading the user guide and watching the YouTube tutorial, there’s still that first time where everyone tries out the software for the first time. Get that first time learning the process out of the way early!
Decide how you’ll set the call up – Some calls require a conference ID while some simply require a link to a conference room. Decide how you’ll set the call up, but importantly, be clear to everyone involved about what they need to do to join the call
Send a calendar invite – This might sound straight forward but often gets forgotten about. Make sure the meeting is in everyone’s calendar!
(ask everyone to start dialling in 5 minutes early or even earlier than that – so if you’ve got a call scheduled for 3pm, ask everyone to dial in at 2.55 to account for any delays)
Join the call at least 5 minutes early – Ask everyone involved to start joining the call no later than 5 minutes before the call is due to start. That way, you can account for any delays and make up any extra time by talking about how remote working is the best (or worst!) thing in the world.
Decide on just audio or video – This can depend on whether you want a simple, quick and easy call (audio) or if you miss your colleagues’ faces (video).
Set up the right space and ask everyone to do the same – Whether it’s getting away from the family dog, avoiding echo or setting up the right light to make your colleagues think you’ve been on a 2 week holiday to the Bahamas, make sure that your space is set up correctly and makes for a suitable call to avoid the “I’ll just try the other room, my wi-fi signal in here is terrible”.
Check your equipment – Make sure your camera is working, sound is coming through your speakers or headset and you’ve got a microphone that works. You can test all this without being in a call, but it’s worth setting up your software first too and checking if it picks up your microphone, camera and speakers.
Decide who will lead the call – Just because you’ve organised and set up the call, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to lead the call. Even if you feel everyone is in the meeting to contribute equally, having someone to lead the meeting is key to avoid going off track but also to just give it a bit of direction and avoid all those awkward silences.
Set an agenda – Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve with the call and send out an agenda to all participants beforehand where possible.
Beginning the call
Begin with a quick outline of the call – Start with a quick summary of the purpose of the call and what you want the call to achieve. It doesn’t need to be a speech, however, often a call is organised a week in advance with no further discussion until the call begins.
Get everyone talking at the beginning of the call – Spend just a couple of minutes at most to speak to every participant at the beginning of the call. Either try asking every participant to give a brief summary of what they’ve brought to the meeting or just start some general conversation. Just having some simple conversation at the beginning means everyone is more likely to contribute further into the call.
During the call
Keep everyone involved – Try and maintain equal participation even if people feel their points have been made already. Participants may feel they’ve got points they’d like to make but don’t get the chance to make them.
If you don’t already, keep a pen and paper to hand – This might not always be to make notes on the meeting itself but to arrange alternate calls with people to discuss other topics that may have come up in the call.
Stick to the agenda – It might be easy to go off on a tangent but make sure you stick to what the meeting was intended for. If another topic comes up, rearrange another call for that.
Make use of screensharing where possible – It might seem counterproductive to spend time setting up screensharing, but the time it takes someone to explain something could be saved by them demonstrating through sharing their screen.
Ending the call
Have a recap – It can be easy to forget what you discussed in the first few minutes of the call, so have a recap and make sure everyone is clear on what was achieved and to make sure everyone is clear on their actions.
Ask for feedback – How does everyone think the call went? Could it have been improved in any way?
If you’ve booked an hour, use the full hour – If you have time at the end, ask everyone how they are, how their day is going and what they have planned. Or even use the time to discuss things you planned to discuss another time. If you’ve booked in an hour, use that hour. Particularly if you’re working from home where chances are you aren’t speaking to your team as much, use the opportunity to have a catch up!
Also, and this is even more important when working from home, use the time to show appreciation for someone for going the extra mile or to recognise someone for their hard work. Reward and recognition are more important than ever right now!
Next time you organise a conference call, try using this as a checklist! If there’s one area you can improve productivity it is without doubt by making your conference calls more efficient. When working from home in particular, conference calls are highly useful and incredibly effective, and conducting them efficiently will improve productivity no end!
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