Have you ever facilitated a conference call? If so, you know how challenging it can be. It’s bad enough to participate on one, but tougher still to be the one who has to get participants engaged and invested in the discussion.
I’ve got some tips for you on how to avoid perpetuating the “Conference Call Blues.” But before I do that, I want to validate why these meetings are so difficult to facilitate, and why they often feel awkward, unnatural…
First of all, leading a conference call feels awkward because it’s almost impossible to “read the room.”
When we can’t see the people we are talking to, it’s tough to get a sense of the thoughts and feelings of the group. Without visual cues, we lose much of the information that fuels true understanding.
This makes it hard to facilitate and participate on a call.
Humans are hard-wired to listen "beyond the words.". An open palm, a raised eyebrow, slumped shoulders or a slight squint give subtle clues about what a person is thinking or feeling.
When we communicate face to face, we can often detect insincerity, frustration, or skepticism without much trouble. It’s a very impressive skill, but one that doesn’t do us much good on a conference call.
When you share a new idea on a call and no one says a word, it's tough to know what to make of the silence. You are left to guess, and you don't have much to go on.
Secondly, conference calls are boring because we need "more" stimulation
Most conference calls are mind numbing because they don’t provide enough stimulus to keep our brains engaged. Scientists agree that humans can process something like 400 or more spoken words per minute. Unfortunately, we typically speak 123-150 words per minute, leaving a lot of space for mind wandering.
This is why participants tend to multi-task on conference calls, using their untapped brain power to delete emails, organize their desks, or write to-do lists.
To make things interesting, people add in lots of slides. If you’ve ever the book Death by PowerPoint, by Michael Flocks, you know why this is a flawed strategy.
Human faces are always more engaging than endless slides.
So, what CAN you do to compensate for all of the above when you lead your next conference call?
Here are a eight tips to keep your audience interested and invested in the discussion:
Use video conferencing and require the participants to turn the video feature ON!
Facial expressions and gestures help to keep everyone awake. Plus, participants who are on camera are much less likely to tune out or multi-task. Many company cultures have opted for keeping cameras off – this is a big mistake.
Keep slides to a minimum.
Really. Less is more when it comes to Power Point Slides.
Plan the agenda carefully and share it in advance.
Give participants things to do or agenda items to cover.
Invite the right people and aim for no more than 10 participants.
The more people on the call, the less the expectation will be that everyone will participate actively.
Remember, “connection before content.” Make sure each participant is introduced.
As people join the call prior to the start time, make small talk.
Keep things energetic and moving right along.
Clarify the goal for your time together and stay on topic.
End with next steps or a call to action.
Follow up with an email to confirm those agreements.
Most important of all, ask yourself, “What is in it for the participants of this call? Why will it be worth their time? What do they care about and how can I help?"
Imagine a time when your colleague will truly look forward to the conference calls you lead. Employ these simple tips, and they will!