It seems so easy. All you
have to do is connect everyone on a phone call. Then they can talk as if they
were in the same room and quickly reach agreements and make decisions. Unfortunately,
if you have participated in such a meeting you know that it doesn't work out quite
that easily. The reason is that people treat a teleconference like an ordinary
phone call. Here is what to do to make sure that your next teleconference ends
with results. Preparation First, realize that a teleconference is a meeting. And
just like any meeting, it will succeed best when preceded by planning. In fact,
since this meeting occurs with the handicap of remote participants, extra planning
is often necessary. Your planning should include:
1) Write out the goal for
the meeting. Then call key participants to check if this goal makes sense to
them. Collect their comments on how to best state the goal, what approach will
maximize results, and what obstacles may hinder progress.
2) Prepare an agenda that
describes the steps that you will take to achieve the goal. Keep the process
simple, because complexity will ruin a teleconference. Also, keep the schedule
short. In general, a teleconference should last less than thirty minutes. If
you have many issues, plan different meetings to work on each of them.
3) Select the participants.
In general, limit attendance to eight or fewer because large groups become unmanageable
in a teleconference. Select only those people who can make significant contributions
to the meeting. Avoid inviting people to attend just so they know what is going
on. You can keep them informed by sending them a copy of the minutes.
4) Prepare materials for
the meeting. This could include notes, data, spreadsheets, schematics, diagrams,
or copies of presentation exhibits. Send copies of these to all of the participants
so they have them before the meeting.
5) Ask someone to serve
as a meeting facilitator (or voice traffic controller). Explain the goal for
your meeting and provide copies of the agenda and all meeting materials. Also
advise the facilitator on any special issues that could affect the outcome of
the meeting. For example, tell the facilitator if someone opposes your plan.
Conducting the Meeting Follow
these steps to make sure that your meeting moves methodically toward the results
that you want.
1) Begin by stating the
goal for the meeting and reviewing the agenda. Thank the participants for attending.
2) Then ask each participant
to give a very brief (10 seconds) self-introduction, stating name and location.
This enrolls everyone into the call and lets everyone associate a name with
the sound of the person's voice.
3) Use the facilitator to
monitor voice traffic, take notes, and direct the meeting process. If possible,
the facilitator can type notes into a discussion page that everyone can watch
on the company's intranet or over the Internet. This mimics record keeping on
a flip chart.
4) Follow the process or
strategy that you planned when organizing the meeting. Avoid allowing a random
discussion that leads to nothing. Use questions to focus the participant's attention
to your issue followed by summaries to capture results. For example, you could
ask, "What should we do about the new requirement for this project?"
followed by "It seems that everyone agrees that we should extend the deadline
by a week."
5) Use the notes and other
materials that you sent to the participants. For example, you can lead the participants
through an explanation by referring to supporting items, e.g., "The cost
appears at the bottom of the second column in Table 2."
6) Write minutes to document
agreements, decisions, and results. Publish these within a day after the meeting
and use them to track progress on action items.
Effective Phone Usage Establish
rules for effective and respectful phone usage. This includes:
1) Use the handset (or a
headset) instead of the speakerphone. A speakerphone, while sometimes useful,
distorts your voice, picks up background sounds (like office equipment), and
makes a poor impression on the listener. If you must have both hands free while
you talk, obtain a headset. (Note: It is more courteous to speak to people through
the handset on all phone calls.)
2) Eliminate background
noises such as radios, conversations, and office chatter. If necessary, request
that participants participate from an empty office, close their doors, or ask
their office mates to leave for the duration of the meeting. If someone is participating
from home, that person may need to move children and pets into other rooms.
3) Pay attention to the
meeting. Some people use the privacy of their office to start unproductive activities
during the meeting. For example, some people may read their mail, surf the Internet,
or press the mute button to carry on conversations. This effectively removes
them from the meeting. Even worse, the other participants think this person
is still there, paying attention.
4) Wait until the person
speaking finishes before starting to talk. You can have the facilitator select
the next speaker or establish a protocol where the speaker signals by saying,
"Next" or "I'm done" when finished. If this seems artificial,
then you may find it useful to wait a second or so when you expect that someone
has finished speaking before starting.
Teleconferences can provide
an effective and efficient means of conducting a meeting. They allow participants,
who may be separated by large distances, to gather without having to travel.
Use the above techniques to make sure that your meetings earn a profit for your