Conference calls in business are, in my opinion, a “necessary evil”. With business spread out like it is with multiple offices and staff working from home you cannot expect to have as many meetings around the board room table as we did in the past. Add to this this the ever-increasing cost of travel and audio and video conferencing finds it’s place in business.

But don’t fool yourself it is not perfect! Anywhere from 55 to 90 percent of all communication is non-verbal; it’s the smiles, positions, sighs, texting and the infinite expressions that let us know what people really think–or when they’ve tuned out. Our brains are so hardwired to detect and interpret these silent signals that total strangers can pick up our moods in a manner of seconds ½ without us ever speaking a single word.

Simply seeing business colleagues is insufficient, as any user of Skype or video conferencing can attest.

Expensive video systems that put the entire conference room in a fish-bowl perspective are definitely coming along in technology. The ability to remotely pan/tilt/zoom the other party’s camera for example. These systems will require an investment in hardware and set up, and even then, we need get over the self-consciousness of staring at ourselves. The phone may not be perfect, but it’s a far better alternative than endless emails, or giving in to organizational attention deficit disorder.

A few tips to make conference calls more effective:

  1. Manage expectations. Don’t assume that conversation will flow naturally. In fact, don’t assume that everyone knows the agenda or expects a “conversation” in the traditional sense, with back and forth, give and take. A conference call requires more structure to be productive. Once you accept the limitations of the medium and reset expectations, you will have a more effective call.
  2. Set a clear agenda and reiterate it at the beginning of the call. It may sound like managing the minutiae, but the alternative is awkward silences, unprepared participants and a giant waste of time. On the flip side, the call is not an “open mic” for anyone to pile on their issues while everyone is assembled. An agenda will Focus the conversation, hitting that sweet spot between deep concentration and “anything goes” where creativity and problem solving happen.
  3. Go around the table. Take a minute partway through the conversation and invite each person–by name–to offer his or her thoughts so far.

The intention is not to put anyone on the spot. In fact, you can give ample warning that everyone will be called on to participate. Going “around the table” gives everyone the opportunity to contribute. End the call with the same tactic. Everyone gets the ball for a minute, and can toss it to the next participant.

Finally, use your face time wisely. Yes, conference calls suck. But they are a necessary evil. If you can’t avoid them, you owe it to your team to make your more useful, valuable and infrequent in-person meetings as purposeful as possible.

Complex issues, growth planning, sensitive conversations and even good ol’ fashioned free-ranging conversations over a good meal and perhaps infused with the fruit of the vine are all better when done in person and I believe still an absolute requirement for business growth. The ability to add the conferencing ability to your business is relatively straight forward. Okanagan Telephone can add a high quality Polycom conference phone to your existing telephone system for your main location. Providing multiple participants the ability the join the conference can be done via the built in bridging capabilities of your telephone system or can be provided via Okanagan Telephone’s hosted bridge which will allow almost unlimited callers.

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