Although I prefer more sophisticated technologies, I occasionally hold conference calls to communicate and collaborate with other project team members. While the audio-only approach to team meetings isn't my default choice for remote meeting options, it offers two advantages:
- More Flexibility
I can start a conference call in a taxi and finish a call on an airport runway with only the occasional stop to pass security. Video-based calls require more of my attention, a luxury not always permitted during transit.
- Easier to Access
A poor wireless internet connection or a low battery supply on a work device can make a video meeting more difficult. As long as I can access a phone and a call-in number, I can attend the meeting.
Despite its advantages, the limitations of audio-only conference calls (limited or no visual communication, comparatively poor audio quality, decreased attendee engagement, etc) are noticeable and particularly annoying. I look forward to a future in live, digital collaboration with promising products such as Google Jamboard and Google Fiber are more accessible.
Until then, I will periodically rely on calling people in different time zones and talking through project plans, changing stakeholder needs and daily challenges. Below are a few fundamentals I keep in mind when I'm leading these conference calls.
1. FIND A QUIET PLACE EARLY.
I create a meeting reminder to alert me 15 minutes before the call so I can prepare my coffee, print any relevant materials, and prepare. Not all private rooms are sound-proof, so if time permits, I check the room before meeting time. If not, I typically carry Bose in-ear noise canceling headphones.
2. Prepare a quick introduction
I save more introduction information for later in the conversation, if necessary. Before the meeting, I encourage participants to have these introductions ready as on-the-fly introductions aren't always concise.
“Hi, I’m [name]. I'm [title] in [location]. For the context of this call, I'm working on [topic/product/service].”
3. Reserve 1 Minute of meeting time for Quiet Reading
I reserve one minute at the beginning of the conference for attendees to quietly review the agenda. Although I hope my meeting attendees have reviewed the objectives before joining, I will provide time for the attendees to re-read the objectives. After everyone is finished reading, I invite for clarifying questions.
Early in the call, I explain "Take a minute to review the agenda to ensure you don't have any clarifying questions."
4. SET RULES FOR INTERRUPTIONS AND QUESTIONS
At the beginning of the call, I identify which points in the meeting are reserved for questions or ideas. I avoid waiting until the end for all contributions. I request that, when people start talking, they say their name in the event others don't know who is speaking.
5. Announce guest arrivals
Some conference call services make an audible beep if someone leaves or enters the conference room. I encourage attendees to identify the person who enters or leaves, even if it means interrupting the flow of the conversation.
6. identify Notetaker
At the beginning of each call, I identify who will be recording notes, questions and next steps. At the end of the call, I confirm the note taker does not have questions. I organize the meeting notes in a central location accessible to others. If visualizations or specific files were created or discussed, the notetaker is responsible for identifying how to access those visualizations.