There are a lot of meetings on projects, and on many occasions, you’ll find yourself managing meetings in less than ideal circumstances. While it’s best to get everyone together, this can be really expensive, especially if you have team members in different countries. When you can’t get the team together in one place, conference calls are a good option.
#1. Check When Everyone is Free
It’s not enough to ask the people at the desks around you if they can make a call on Tuesday at 10 am. With a virtual team, you have to coordinate the availability of everyone, and that can mean calculating differences in time zones. If you are working with colleagues overseas it can be difficult to find a time that suits everyone, so in some cases, you’ll be looking for the least bad time.
As it can be so hard to manage everyone’s availability, you can make life easier by asking your team to keep your project schedule up to date. Then you can use this to track when your team members are free to a call. You can also put the call on the schedule and send out invites electronically as this is a good way to ensure they remember on the day!
#2. Ask People To Introduce Themselves
The phone does funny things to people’s voices, and you may not recognize everyone. Do a round of introductions at the beginning of the call. You can also ask people to say their name when they start talking during the call so that everyone knows who is making the point. Once your team has ‘met’ over the phone a few times they will get to know who is who but if you have special guests, such as a subject matter expert, along to your calls go through the introductions again.
#3. Stop Background Noise
You’d be surprised at how much you can hear on the phone – and people typing in the background is probably the most annoying. You assume that the person typing is not giving the meeting their full attention and they are busy multitasking and working on their emails.
Cut out background noise by giving some thought to where you will do the call. Try not to be sitting in a busy airport terminal or an open plan office if you can help it – find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. And if you can’t do that, remember to use the mute button.
#4. Remember It Is A Real Meeting
You still need an agenda for a conference call, and you’ll still issue minutes after the project meeting, even if you do host the meeting on the phone.
Keep the conference call as short as possible. The best way to do this is to stick to the agenda and to be rigorous about noting any project issues that need to be discussed but are off topic.
#5. Record The Call
If your technology allows it, record the call. You can then upload it to your project management information system so that the recording is available for everyone to go back to if they need to. This is especially useful if your minutes aren’t that great (although, as above, you should always produce minutes from a conference call as it is still a proper meeting).
#6. Create A Level Playing Field
Have you ever been on a conference call where it is obvious that everyone except you is sat in the same room? You can hear them comparing notes, having side conversations and getting drinks while you struggle at the other end to make yourself heard and to follow the conversation. It’s even worse if they aren’t speaking in your own language and you are trying to translate at the same time.
The way to overcome this is to create a level playing field, and that means making sure everyone dials in independently. Even if you do have a large group of people who are able to get together, ask them to call in separately as this means that the conference call experience is the same for everyone. There are some situations, of course, where you would choose not to do this, but for routine calls, it gives a much better meeting outcome.
#7. Make Yourself Understood
Make sure that you speak clearly. If you can prepare a bit in advance then do, because it will help you articulate your ideas properly and avoid a garbled jumble of words pouring out of your mouth. That would be difficult for other people to understand and it can also tie up the call and make it take longer.
You can also find it harder to get a word in when you are on a call as you can’t read other people’s body language to know when it is time to speak. Keep trying, but don’t talk over your colleagues as that isn’t great for anyone. And remember to take your call off mute before you make your point! Otherwise, no one will hear your great ideas.
If you are chairing the conference call, try to make time in the meeting for everyone to have their say. Some people on the team may not be as confident as others about speaking up on a conference call, so you can outright ask anyone who hasn’t spoken if they have anything to add. They might not have, but at least you will have given them the opportunity and the space to make their remarks.
Despite the raft of project management software tools available today, conference calls are a mainstay of projects. You’ll find yourself using them on your project. The trick to successful conference calls is to make them as much like a real meeting as possible with a good agenda, good facilitation and good follow up afterward. Your other project management tools can complement the call by using them to share the agenda and minutes and even by having an open instant messaging or chat going at the same time.