Conference calls can sometimes be a necessary evil. Okay, maybe evil is too strong a word, but they can definitely be awkward. There are multiple parties involved, and it's tough to get a read on reactions without any visual feedback. But conference calls can also be a great networking tool and relationship builder, so it's important to handle them with care. Conferencing with clients and business associates is a large part of my day-to-day, so here are some tips to help take the stress out of them.
Conference calls 101
If you're the organizer and you're using a conference service for the first time, do a test run with a co-worker to make sure it works effectively. Make sure you send all parties all the info they'll need to join the call. For example, leaving out a conference pin number could hold things up for everyone.
Share a conference line with the rest of your office? Check ahead of time to make sure nobody else has scheduled a call at the same time as you. Multiple parties calling in for two separate calls at the same time could lead to an embarrassing situation, not to mention it could waste people's time.
Circulate a meeting agenda ahead of time so everyone has a chance to review and add to it, if necessary. This brings purpose to the call and will help you lead the meeting.
If there are people joining from multiple time zones, don't forget to indicate if the time of the call is Eastern Standard Time or otherwise. You don't want the big boss calling in hours before everyone else.
Be prompt. Joining a call late forces the other parties to make awkward small talk while they wait, which nobody appreciates. Or, they will forge ahead without you, meaning you miss important details. If you do join the call late and someone is speaking, don't interrupt to announce your presence. Wait for a break in conversation, and then kindly apologize for being late.
Take the call in a quiet space. Eliminate background noise including chatter, music, pen clicking, etc. Oh, and try not to breathe directly into the receiver. It's annoying. Whenever possible, don't call in from a mobile phone -- there is a big chance you will cut out at some point, and it can be difficult to hear if the connection isn't perfect.
When the call begins, allow everyone the opportunity to introduce themselves by name and affiliation so everyone knows who is present.
Listen closely, and don't be afraid to ask someone to repeat something if you couldn't hear. If you're really having trouble, take notes and ask a colleague what you missed after, if possible. And don't be afraid to jump in with ideas and information as appropriate.
If the conversation goes off topic, reel it back in firmly, but be polite. It's important to stay focused, especially when there is limited time available. Schedule a follow-up call if an important new topic arises.
Be sure everybody is off the line if you continue your conversation with a client, or co-worker. It would be really embarrassing if you started in about "how badly you want to go for a smoke" if one of the other parties is still on the line.
Finally, when the call comes to an end, be sure to thank everybody for their time or wish them a good day. It's just a nice thing to do.
Debra Goldblatt is the founder and president of rock-it promotions, a boutique public relations agency in Toronto, Canada. rock-it promotions creates national campaigns that build recognition and generate positive media coverage for lifestyle, fashion, health, beauty and film clients among many more. A version of this post first appeared on www.onthefourthfloor.com.