While teleconferences can be helpful in uniting people across great distances to get work done, the fact that all members of the conversation aren’t physically in the same room can make teleconferences especially tough to conduct.
Here are some tips to ensure that your next teleconference is a smooth and productive meeting:
- Ensure that all participants have the necessary materials in hand well in advance of the conversation. Has someone written an agenda for your teleconference? Are there key figures or reports you or someone else will be citing within the conversation? If so, it’s imperative to circulate any relevant documents at least a day ahead of your teleconference. This gives all parties ample time to review and/or print materials as needed, so everyone has them at the ready when it’s teleconference time.
- Ask all participants to introduce themselves. Even if everybody knows one another, voices can be difficult to place over the phone. Going around for quick introductions acquaints everyone with the sound of one another’s voice, so it’s easier to tell who’s speaking.
- Stick to one speaker at a time. While people talking over one another is never advisable, it’s especially problematic in teleconferences when participants can’t always see who’s saying what. Be sure to have only one party speaking at a time.
- Skip the sound effects. Be especially aware of anything you’re doing that might be making noise. Whether it’s rifling through papers, clicking your ball point pen, or drumming your fingers on the table, these noises can prove distracting and irritating, especially during a teleconference when people must listen even harder than usual.
- Keep a running list of who is responsible for what. Did someone offer to share a synopsis of their recent work? Did another person volunteer to circulate more recent statistics? No matter what it is, keep tabs on who is doing what, so that it’s clear once the meeting’s over what needs to be shared among the group.
- Stay on topic. Again, what’s unfortunate in a face-to-face meeting is dismal in a teleconference. Straying off topic should be avoided, since teleconferences entail aligning schedules from a distance, making meeting time all the more valuable.
- Instruct everyone to identify themselves before speaking. To assist the person who is taking minutes, as well as those who aren’t in the room with you, be sure to identify yourself each and every time you speak within a teleconference. Again, not being face-to-face could lead to confusion, so better to be perfectly clear for all parties, near and far.
- Try to speak slightly more slowly than usual, with an emphasis on clarity. Anyone who’s had to listen to someone over a speakerphone knows that clear speech can often fall by the wayside. So that you don’t have to repeat yourself and waste valuable meeting time, make an extra effort to speak loudly, slowly, and clearly.
- Repeat essential numbers and figures, and feel free to ask others to repeat them. Because you may not have easy access to long-distance members of your meeting, it’s especially critical to get what they’re saying right. To this end, if you hear what seems like an important statement or figure, feel free to ask the speaker to repeat it to ensure you got it down accurately: “I just want to be sure I got that correctly, Susan. May I repeat that back to you?” In turn, emphasize any important numbers or statements by saying them twice.
- If you come up with an important point or question, write it down. Not all great ideas come at a time when it’s your turn to speak. Be sure to jot down any key questions or points you’d like to make if they arise while someone else is speaking.
- Be sure to take detailed minutes and distribute them immediately. Since teleconferences can be that much trickier to follow, by virtue of their faraway participants, it’s especially important to document the conversation with detailed meeting minutes. These should include who said what, and which action items and deliverables are supposed to be followed up by whom. Once the teleconference has concluded, have the meeting’s minutes typed up and distributed to all attendees as quickly as possible, so participants can review what went on while the conversations are still fresh in their minds, and set straight any inaccuracies or miscommunications that may have occurred.