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“Hello? Can you hear me?”

“Oh, sorry, you go first.”

“No, you go first!”

“Sorry, who’s speaking now?”

Conference calls are a challenge. When you’ve got multiple people relying entirely on audio, you’re missing out on the rich visual cues that can help a meeting run smoothly.

Though video conferencing is quickly outpacing audio, there are still occasions when the good ol’ phone call is a better option, such as:

Of course, the audio conference call comes with unique challenges, such as:

Due to the conference call’s unique challenges, it’s all the more important to come prepared. Below are some tips on how to lead a conference call without the headaches.

Before the Conference Call

1. Choose the right web conferencing app.

While you could certainly lead a conference call that’s purely audio, it can be helpful and more engaging to supplement the call with a screen share. There are many web conferencing apps that allow you to do this.

For example, you could host an audio-only Zoom call but still be able to share your screen. Here’s how:

2. Cull the attendee list.

With conference calls, the fewer attendees, the better. With too many people on an audio call, it can get confusing because you have to distinguish between so many voices. Whomever you choose to invite, make sure they really need to be there. For the rest, you can simply send them notes from the meeting.

3. Assign a notetaker. 

As the leader, you’ll have your hands full managing speakers and making sure the meeting is running smoothly. Request that someone else take notes so you can send those meeting minutes to everyone after the call.

4. Set a meeting time limit.

No one likes a meeting that is drawn out unnecessarily, but it’s even worse when the meeting is done via audio because, without the stimulation of seeing faces, these tend to get boring quickly.

 

If you’re hosting an audio-only conference call, aim to keep it at 30 minutes and no longer than one hour.

5. Create the agenda.

Outline who will speak, what they’re going to talk about, and in what order. With the challenges inherent to audio calls, it’s essential that you tame the chaos by determining who will be presenting and when.

 

As for the format, it’s better to have everyone give their entire presentation first and then open the floor to questions. This will reduce confusion and reduce the number of times people speak over each other.

6. Share the agenda and meeting details with everyone via email.

Now that you’ve confirmed the attendee list and created the agenda, be sure to share it with everyone in attendance well ahead of the meeting. This will give attendees time to prepare if they’re presenting and familiarize themselves with the order of presenters.

 

Provide all the information they’ll need to join the call. This includes the link, dial-in code, and passcode. Be sure to send it to them well ahead of time, and maybe send it again 30 minutes before the meeting.

 

In addition to the agenda and meeting access details, share some meeting pointers they should follow, such as:

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    7. Do a dry run with your chosen conferencing app.

    New technology has a way of surprising us. You want to limit surprises as much as possible. Once you’ve selected a conferencing app for your conference call, test out its features. Invite a couple of trusted colleagues to join a test conference call so you can familiarize yourself with the format and features. 

     

    Test out the link and dial-in codes ahead of time. Nothing ruins a meeting quite like participants not being able to access it.

    During the Call

    1. Remember your responsibilities as the leader.

    As the conference call leader, it’s your job to introduce everyone, move them on from topic to topic, and so forth.

     

    As people enter, either make sure they’re in a waiting room (like Zoom has), or be sure to publicly acknowledge them by saying something like, “It looks like Janet has joined. How are you, Janet?”

     

    If there is no waiting room, you’ll likely be sitting on the call with some people for a few minutes as you wait for everyone to arrive. So that people don’t think they’ve lost connection, be sure to say something like, “We’re still waiting on a couple more people. We’re going to wait for one more minute to give them time to join.”

    Also, don’t be afraid to start a friendly conversation before diving into the meat of the meeting (as long as you’ve got extra time!).

     

    Once everyone has joined, kick off the meeting by announcing who you are, who else is on the call, and what the purpose of the meeting is. You can also go over some ground rules, such as:

     

    2. Heed the agenda.

    Keep the agenda before you at all times so you have a better idea of who’s speaking next and when to wrap up any Q&A sessions. You’ll also need to refer to it to transition more smoothly. For example, “Okay, everyone, that concludes the questions about our Q1 finances. Let’s move on now to marketing plans for our upcoming product launch.”

    3. Mute yourself as necessary.

    Stay muted when you’re not speaking, and ask others to do the same. Depending on your conferencing app, you as the host might be able to mute people as you see fit. 

    4. Know when to chime in.

    5. Give everyone a chance to speak.

    Some people don’t feel comfortable speaking up during a conference call versus an in-person meeting, so try to encourage these people. At the same time, you don’t want to put them on the spot or embarrass them.

    Once conversation dies down at the end of a topic, if you notice someone hasn’t said a word, you can ask, “[Name], is there anything you’d like to add?” If they say no, quickly move on.

    Ending the Call

    Cure Your Conference Call Woes

    Yes, conference calls are a challenge—but they’re nothing you can’t handle. With these tips on how to lead a conference call, you’ll conquer your next meeting with ease.


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