Productive phone conferences

phone conferenceIn these times of coronainduced travel restrictions, I expect that remote meetings will surge. And that many will feel inexperienced and uncertain on how to make those meetings productive and positive, as participant or as host or presenter.

With fifteen years under my belt in international and global roles in one of the world’s most internationally integrated corporations (IBM), and most of those years as an expert consultant on remote work, I have participated or led thousands of remote meetings.

In a quick series of blog posts, I’d like to share some advise and good practices, split by type of remote meeting:

  • Phone conferences
  • Video conferences
  • Web meetings (i.e. presentation on screen and audio conversation either via device or phone conference)
  • Webinars (as web meetings but only one way audio – usually lectures for large groups)

Your reflections, objections and suggestions are very welcome!

Would you like more hands-on consulting support with remote collaboration you’re very welcome to get in touch, of course.


Productive phone conferences

These pointers are intended for meetings with too many participants to handle with the in-built features of mobile phones to patch calls with three or maybe four participants. When you need a phone conferencing service, in other words.


Participants

  1. Prepare in time. The number to call? And the code? Headset if you’re attending among other people? Some phone conferencing services take a while to connect to. Make sure to find a sufficiently calm environment ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute. Latecomers are just as annoying in remote meetings as live, as are interruptions.
  2. There are usually two options to call into the phone conference: Direct (the cost hits your subscription) or call-back from the conference provider. Call-back is often rather expensive for the host, so if the webinar is internal and your employer pays for your phone anyway, they usually prefer that you call in yourself.
  3. Use a local number if you choose to call in.
  4. MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN NOT SPEAKING! The most common gaffe is to forget your mic on and to have a side conversation, yell at pets or kids or yawn loudly (as I did once – only). This is especially important if you fail to find a silent environment as your background sounds can get very annoying for other participants.
  5. UN-MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN SPEAKING! The second most common gaffe is to forget to put your mic back on again when supposed or wanting to speak.
  6. Say your name when speaking, at least in the beginning of the meeting. Everyone might not recognise your voice. Especially if you’re unfamiliar to some participants
  7. Focus on the phone conference. Skip those side activities (very tempting to do). Multi tasking is a myth. It’s awfully embarrassing when the host has to shout your name several times to get your attention back from that side thing you got engulfed in.

Host/Presenter

  1. Consider using a video conference instead. It’s not only more personal but it also makes it much harder for participants to do other things at the side of the meeting as they are visible all the time and therefore need to stay attentive (see #7 above)
  2. Alternatively: Consider supplementing the phone conference with a web meeting. Then presentations can be displayed and screens shared, and – not to be despised – meeting minutes can be taken live during the meeting, visible for all to clarify or object to. Both decisions, reasons and to do’s will be more clear for everybody – there and then.
  3. Invitation: Make it ridiculously easy to find the number(s) to call (and the code). Don’t just link to the suppliers page listing call-in numbers all over the world. Instead, copy the relevant numbers from that list into your invitation (but still provide the link (someone might call in from somewhere unexpected). In certain calendar software, you can prepare standard texts for this.
  4. Start with a rollcall to make sure you know who is in attendance.
  5. Don’t bother re-starting for latecomers. 1) It’s annoying for those who did join in time and 2) If they miss the start, they might get the pointer and join in time in the future.
  6. Consider starting 15 minutes past the hour instead to allow people with back-to-back meetings some air, to end the previous meeting a bit late, a coffee or to “wash their hands”
  7. If you, as is often the case, are a bigger group in the office with a speaker phone while others join individually, it’s easy in the big group to forget the remote participants, start small talking, speak too far away from the mic and the remote participants feel forgotten (rightly so):
    • Move the mic close to whoever speaks, as needed and as possible
    • Or have the host/presenter repeat questions or comments from the group to make sure remote participants get them
    • Check in regularly with remote participants to ensure that they hear and are attentive
  8. Open a chat for participants (and maybe separate chats for presenters) using your chat service of choice. Participants can ask and comment without having to interrupt the presenter’s flow. Presenters can be told to get ready; “You’re on in two”.
  9. Delegate moderation of chat(s) to someone in the same location as you, to respond to questions as much as possible by chat and to collect and pass on selected questions to presenters when suitable.
  10. Presenters have to prune and clarify their message much more than they are used to as there will be no visuals to help them get it through to attendees. Only a few points!
  11. If decisions are made and tasks distributed during the meeting, make sure to be explicit and clear about it – as there’s an elevated risk of people not paying full attention.
  12. For the same reason: be quick to distribute the meeting minutes and to do’s after the meeting.
  13. If inviting participants across time zones, I recommend using World Time Buddy, a wonderful little online service that makes it very easy to realise what time the session will be in different time zones. (three zones included in the free version)

If you have questions, comments or thoughts on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment or to reach out.

Think of that online collaboration is much more than remote meetings only, which require that all participants are available simultaneously, sometimes across distant time zones. If you are serious about online collaboration across geographical and organisational boundaries you need to supplement such synchronous collaboration with asynchronous, like file sharing, blogs, communities, forums and more that offer fantastic possibilities to collaborate transparently, boosting agility, sharing of experience, inspiration, innovation and broader horizons.

If you’re lucky, you have access to HCL Connections offering all these kinds of features in one solution – together with services for video and online meetings. A bit like combining LinkedIn, Dropbox, Zoom, WordPress and more in one comprehensive package – inside the firewall – and with the same filter bubble-logic as on Facebook and LinkedIn; you get more of what you’ve shown interest in, but for work that is positive.