Conference Calls can be very effective, if …
A major strength of the hospitality industry is the hosting of face-to-face interaction at our hotels and other meeting facilities, both for our guests and within our own organization. Those personal interactions allow for better communication and often team building in tackling challenges and problems.
There are times when meetings are not convenient (telecommuting staff, emergencies, excessive travel time or cost), but verbal communications are more effective than emails, intranet postings or memos.
Conference Calls can be very effective, if … some fundamental rules are followed:
If you are the leader in using conference calls, consider the following questions:
• Do you really need a conference call?
There are times when several short one-on-one phone conversations with a few people would be more efficient.
• Did you send out an agenda prior to the call, by email or company intranet posting?
Agendas keep everyone focused. It should include no more than 8-10 bullet points of exactly what is to be discussed and specifically what should be accomplished as direction and outcome from meeting. The conference call leader must send out all important conference call information in advance, including the dial-in number and passwords. If this is a follow-up call where associates on the call will be providing updates on assigned deliverables, the agenda should state which of these updates are to be included in the advance communication as well.
• How much time is needed, or do you really require an hour for your conference call?
Online calendars block time into ¼-hour time slots for a reason. If there are 30 minutes of issues to discuss, schedule it for 30 minutes. The chances are you will be focused more on the important items on the agenda in order to accomplish what you need to the time allotted.
Specific Actions to remember for facilitators:
• Start on time.
The facilitator must start the meeting on time and lead the introductions with a roll call, which should include each conference call participant’s name, job title, and location. A tip – both facilitators and participants should smile while speaking to spread enthusiasm and energy!
• Turn off call waiting.
No one wants to hear the distracting beep of the call waiting function.
• Use the right equipment.
Speakerphones have a tendency to pick up background noises and this is especially true in an open office area with multiple cubicles. If you must use a speakerphone because there are multiple participants at the same location, it is usually better to use the mute function until it is your turn to speak, so that everyone on the call can hear him/herself clearly.
• Find a quiet space or room.
Avoid the distractions of external interruptions, when possible.
• Avoid cell phones if possible.
While cell phones may seem to be more convenient, they can pick up static or service can be dropped during the call. If there is only a single participant at a location, the best phone to use during a conference call is a landline phone with a headset.
• Keep the group on track .
There may be some benefit in allowing some “catch-up time” but only prior to the scheduled start time of the conference call. It is important to set the tone and pace for the meeting ahead. If you are facilitating the call, remember that it is your responsibility to keep the group on topic and focus.
• Follow your call up with a summary email, listing action items and delivery dates.
Accountability is essential after all meetings, including conference call meetings. Nothing keeps people on assignment and focused more than the expectation and knowledge that they will be held accountable for commitments on future calls. Taking a few minutes to review who is doing what and by when is invaluable.
Other considerations to make conference calls effective:
• Don’t interrupt.
Since there are not visual reminders during an audio conference call, participants should wait until the last speaker is finished before speaking. Conference call participants should also remember to introduce themselves before they address the others on the call, unless all parties know each other’s voices well. It is the facilitator’s role to discourage interruptions or to redirect the call back on topic, if the conversation goes off on a tangent.
• Don’t do distracting activities.
Conference call participants should remember that many speakerphones pick up typing on the keyboard, paper shuffling, pencil tapping, and chair squeaks. As mentioned earlier, muting the call is a good practice when others are speaking.
• Don’t put the call on hold.
If a conference call is placed on hold, “hold” music will begin and distract the entire meeting, or another employee can pick up the held call, which will further interrupt the meeting and jostle everyone’s focus.
• Ending the conference call.
When the call is ready to end, the facilitator should clearly state the meeting has concluded, and add a single closing comment. Facilitators should also be the last one to hang up, so that there is no additional time billed from the hosting service.
These are common sense tips, but many conference call participants can forget how to use them because conference calls are made without visual cues. If there are new employees without conference call experience, the facilitator may want to share an etiquette tip sheet, including such information as in this column, to help new participants learn before they make a mistake during an important conference call.
Conference calls have their place when used effectively, because they can be scheduled quickly, minimize costs and bring people together for an appropriate reason. If courtesy and etiquette are observed, these meetings can be successful, everyone can be heard, and participants will be encouraged to share ideas and input.
For an amusing example of how many conference calls have gone awry, go to http://www.hospitalityeducators.com/articles/20101006