Conference calls – We’ve been on millions! While it’s changed the way we are able to work with teams across multiple locations around the globe, there are definitely some downsides about this medium for meetings.
I love this video that depicts the common pitfalls of conference calls – Conference Call in Real Life. Check it out for a good belly laugh!
Beyond people talking over one another, talking on mute, dropping in and out, sneaking on with no one knowing, etc. … the biggest beef I have with conference calls is the disengagement of so many of the participants!
It’s tempting to multitask and tune out/zone out. If no one can SEE me, then I can do whatever is more important to me. This ultimately makes the meeting a big waste of time … am I right?
So, what are the signals that people are not really focused on the conversation?
- Getting emails from people on the call DURING the call about something different from the topic at hand — come on people, don’t blatantly blow your cover like this!
- Closely related to the one above … the sound of typing fingers. Yea, you may be taking notes, but it’s more likely your typing that email you’re about to send on a different topic! Again – at least use the mute button so we can’t hear that tappity-tap-tap on the keyboard.
- The, “Sorry, could you repeat that?” response when you ask someone their opinion or to answer a question.
- Finally, that DEADLY SILENCE! It’s the worst! “Am I talking to myself again? Is anyone out there?” Let me tell you from experience – don’t take silence as agreement with what you’re saying. Don’t pretend you’ve outlined everything perfectly and all listeners clearly understand what you’ve said and have no opinion, comment or question. Believe me … EVERYONE has an opinion!
So what’s the silver bullet to overcome all this inattention on a conference call?
(drum roll please … ) ASK QUESTIONS … SPECIFIC QUESTIONS of your participants!
Simply pausing and saying, “Does anyone have any questions?” just won’t cut it!
You’ll be greeted with silence and then you might make the mistake of thinking everyone loves and agrees everything I’ve just said!
Instead, say something like this: “Carol, how are you going to implement that in your location?” OR “John, can you tell about your experience when you tried this in your old department?” Maybe even, “Linda, what objections do you think your project leads will have with this approach?”
You get the idea. Make them THINK about the content of the discussion and how it applies to them or comment on why they like/don’t like your plan.
Even go as far as assigning (being “voluntold”) or asking for volunteers to take specific follow-up actions.
Be known for hosting the most productive, interactive, dare I say, fun conference calls in the land!
Start on time. End on time. Get work done and decisions made. It can only be accomplished if people are engaged in the discussion. And YOU have the power to fire up the engagement!
Like the wishes in a genie’s bottle – all you have to do is ASK!
Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.