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3 Tips for Leading Productive Conference Calls

Conference calls can easily devolve into a supreme waste of time – you’ve been there, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. They’re terrible, and made especially worse when you have to get on the phone at 6am from home because “London” just has to join in the fun as well. Nothing infuriates your employees, team members, partners or stakeholders more than a conference call with no agenda, no interactivity and no point. To avoid getting ridiculed behind your back at the office for lording your elevated title above everyone else (I’m talking to you Mr. Investment Banking Managing Director who loves to hear himself talk while your entire global team is on mute) please follow these three steps to keep everyone happy.

Tips for a Successful Conference Call (Photo: iStockphoto)

Always have an agenda – written and distributed ahead of the call
The agenda doesn’t have to be 100% detailed. Just an outline, a simple list of topics will suffice. This is 90% of the battle won right there. Just having it can keep calls brief, succinct and to the point. Everyone will be on the same page to start; and if you’ve delegated topics, people can prepare remarks ahead of a call rather than stammering through a question cold called to them from across the pond. Everyone on your team will appreciate a consistently produced agenda. And if you notice someone else plan a call without an agenda – don’t accept their meeting invite unless you see one. Your time is too valuable.

Encourage interactivity…and really mean it
I know someone who, during his corporate career the head of his group, would lead global conference calls and would start each meeting by emphasizing the interactive, open-forum and free nature of the call. He would then proceed, without fail, to talk for the ENTIRE hour without opening the lines for Q&A or feedback. It would just be him speaking the whole time. In order to have a productive meeting over the phone, you have to try extra hard to get people engaged. Call people out by name and ask them to say something. This is culturally significant as well, as certain individuals on your team might not raise their voice or objection to something (no matter how significant) unless spoken to first. Applying this best practice should result in more dynamic dialogue where more people contribute.

Summarize next steps
If you have conference calls that don’t result in a clear next step, what’s the point of having the call in the first place? Conference calls should result in calls to action – any sort of data dump or news disclosure can more efficiently be covered electronically. At the conclusion of your conference call, summarize the “so what” of what you just discussed and remind all of your participants of what is expected of them during the interim period between calls. Whether it’s hitting the next project milestone, following up with the new account, or implementing a new operational control, the information should be clearly outlined and documented.

You will notice an immediate improvement in the quality of your conference simply by integrating these suggestions. You will also notice that these calls will start taking less time as well, freeing you up to do what you really should be doing, which is actual work!

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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