By Steve Czerniak, Subject Matter Expert, SCORE of Southeast Michigan
We can’t always be in the same parcel of geography with everyone we need in a meeting. Sometimes other forces get in the way of face-to-face meetings (like COVID-19). Technology has given us tools that allow us to connect cheaply and easily for the spoken and video part of a meeting.
All too many people have difficulty with telephone and video conferences. Conducting and participating in one is different than a face-to-face meeting. The following tips and tricks can help:
All the rules of conducting effective meetings apply.
BEFORE THE MEETING - Plan (Purpose, Outcomes, Participants, Methods, Room, Resources, Agenda) and Prepare (Invitation, Legal Issues, Security, Read-Ahead, Set-up, Get Technology Working)
DURING THE MEETING - Commence (Check-in, Distribute Materials, Start on Time, Introductions, Roles, Evacuation, Agenda, Outcomes, Ground-Rules, Open Action Items, Open Issues), Conduct (Manage the Discussion, “Parking Lot,” Re-prioritize, Written Record) and Close (Recap, Review, Net Meeting, Evaluate, Thank You, End on Tie)
AFTER THE MEETING - Post-Meeting (Send Minutes, Use Repository, Complete Assignments, Follow-up)
Have a good facilitator. Someone needs to focus on running the meeting and not on the content. Remind people of concerns and guidance at the start of the meeting. Periodically check for understanding and summarize the proceedings. Check in with each site to solicit input at points during the call. End the meeting with a recap and seek closure. Thank the participants.
Consider the clash of time zones before scheduling the call. It’s way too easy to keep people really late or bring them to a call very early in their day.
Identify participants. Participants should identify themselves every time they speak. Announce when someone arrives or departs.
How can people on the other end of the phone get attention and an opportunity to talk? When you’re on the other end of a phone, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. With video, you can hold up a hand. Some teams allow participants to push a button the phone to send a tone.
Make sure that all participating locations have the right hardware and software and know how to use it. Contact each one before the call to make sure. You can really spoil starting a meeting when the technology isn’t right.
Provide all of the necessary dial-in information with the invitation to the meeting. Plan to use a landline telephone, if possible, to ensure good quality (and encourage participants to do the same). Handheld phones encourage “puffing” into the microphone or not going on mute when not talking.=
Know how to mute your connection and tell participants how to do the same. Encourage each site to go on mute when not speaking. CAUTION: Don’t use a muted connection as an excuse to have a distracting sidebar conversation.
People on either end who nervously tap the table or click a pen. Sounds like thunder on the phone. Nobody will hear anything else.
Cell phones on stun (e.g. vibrate). NOT on the table with the phone. If it rings and vibrates, a tabletop phone amplifies the vibration and blocks all other sound. Step out of a room to take critical calls in the halls.
Remind team members to speak clearly. Speak one at a time. Speak to the microphone.
No sidebar conversations. The group needs everybody’s wisdom. Also, the mumble gets picked up by the microphone.
Don’t use gestures without verbalizing during the teleconference. People on the other end of the phone don’t know how far apart you might be holding your fingers or hands. They don’t know if you are doing a “nod, nod, wink, wink, know what I mean” gesture. Something as simple as asking for a “thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways” has to be verbally affirmed.
There may be language or cultural differences. The subtleties of English language usage varies by location and user. For example, define acronyms and initialisms. Avoid idioms.
Don’t allow one person to dominate the meeting. This is true of any meeting but can destroy a telephone conference.
About the Author
Steve Czerniak retired after a successful 37-year career as a leader and innovator. The last 15 years were a series of opportunities that honed his skills as an internal consultant and “change agent.” In retirement, he is a volunteer consultant and a SCORE Subject Matter Expert for the Southeast Michigan chapter. His personal volunteer objective is to “derive personal satisfaction from helping others, and the organizations they operate, to develop and prosper.” Visit his site: spczgivingback.org.
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