Skills 360 – Teleconferences (Part 2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at how to lead a teleconference.

Leading a meeting is rarely easy. You’ve got to manage time, an agenda, and – most importantly – a diverse group of people. Now, what about if the meeting happens by phone, with each person or small group calling in from a different location? Nobody can see each other, and there may be a variety of distractions that you, as the leader, can’t shut out simply by closing the door. Sure, teleconferencing is a marvel of modern technology, but it can be challenging.

If you’re leading a teleconference, the usual advice about facilitating meetings becomes all the more important. That includes having a clear agenda and starting on time, which is sometimes difficult because of an added layer of technical complexity. So well before the meeting, make sure everyone has the correct call-in instructions and that everyone knows what time the meeting starts in their local time. Then sign in early so you can deal with any technical problems as people join.

And what should you do as people join? As the leader, you need to welcome them, by saying things like: “Oh hi Dave. Glad you could make it,” and “Welcome Janet from Miami.” Take the time right at the beginning of the meeting to introduce everyone, or have everyone introduce themselves, saying their name and where they’re calling in from. Remember, people can’t see each other, so they only have voices to go on. Doing a roll call at the beginning let’s people associate names with voices.

Now, during the meeting, your job is similar to that of a traffic controller. You need to help the discussion flow around each point on the agenda and lead the group to destinations, or decisions. A free-flowing discussion is somewhat easier in-person, when everyone can see each other and signal that they want to say something.

But on a teleconference, this is more difficult. You might want to try more formal turn-taking – or “go around the circle” – at certain points because it’s more orderly. For example, you could say: “Okay I’d like to hear what everyone has to say on the CFO’s announcement. Let’s hear from Susan first, then Sam, then Nick and finally Brenda.”

If you do let the discussion flow, you may have to encourage participation from everyone. It’s pretty easy on a conference call, especially with lots of people, to hide in the background. Feel free to call on people by name, like “Tanis, do you have any thoughts on this?” As you manage the discussion, you may also need to help people understand. For example, you might say “Just so everyone’s clear, Tanis just said…”

Managing the flow also means responding when people want to cut in or cut people off, like this: “Okay Roger, if you can just wait a sec and let Tanis finish please.” Or if two people begin talking at the same time, you might have to say something like “Okay, let’s have Wendy first, then Frank.”

The whole point of this traffic control is to instill order and improve understanding. But how do you know if people understand? You don’t have frowns and furrowed brows to tell you that people are lost. So conduct regular check-ins, like this: “Okay, is everyone clear on this so far? Any questions?”

Difficulties with understanding are not only due to a lack of visual clues. Sometimes it’s about how people are speaking. If they are too fast or too soft, ask them to slow down or speak up. And if there’s background noise that’s driving everyone bonkers, suss out the cause and resolve the problem. Remember, people are relying on you as facilitator.

We’ve talked about starting and managing the meeting, but what happens at the end? Just as with an in-person meeting, it’s good to summarize action points before thanking everyone and giving some kind of closing statement. That might sound like “All right, thanks for taking the time today everyone. Have a great day and I’ll send the minutes around later.”

And there you have it. If you follow these tips, you should have a great teleconference. That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

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