One of the best things about being in business today is that it has never been easier to stay in touch with your co-workers, team, and clients. Thanks to modern technology, we can organize meetings on the fly, host virtual meetups, and keep everything running smoothly from almost anywhere in the world. Today, one of the easiest and most popular ways to keep everyone within your business in touch is with conference calls. Not only are they easy to set up, but they allow for real-time interaction so that potential problems get solved quickly and so that everyone is always on the same page.
When it comes to business efficiency, there are few tools that are as easy and effective as conference calls.
Of course, being able to host a successful conference call matters. Expectations today are vastly different than what was expected of a conference call a decade ago. Not only do attendees want the call to be productive, but they also want to make sure that there’s a clear reason why they need to actually be on the call. Not to mention, the quality of the video and/or audio is more important than ever.
Want to host successful conference calls that people actually look forward to? Whether you’re meeting with your boss, your clients, or your virtual team from around the world, here are ten tips to make sure everything goes smoothly.
1. Be Organized
There’s nothing worse than a conference call that doesn’t have a clear purpose. In order to make your conference call effective, you need to spend time getting organized beforehand. This means you should have everything you need at your fingertips, including an agenda, notes, and a clear list of to-dos. To really impress, send out the agenda for the call before it begins so that everyone can be on the same page and know exactly what to expect. Being organized is one of the only ways you can be sure not to waste anyone’s time — including your own.
2. Know Your Service
Always take the time to become familiar with the business phone system and/or conference call service you are using before the actual call takes place. Each service has its unique quirks, so being aware of how everything operates can ensure that the call goes smoothly. Understanding the service you’re using is also the best way to help other attendees navigate it. Rather than just sending them to the service’s FAQ page, you can actually answer their questions yourself.
3. Create Engagement
The best conference calls make sure that everyone on the call has an opportunity to participate. If all you do is talk, then people will wonder why you didn’t just send a voice memo. Always carve out time for questions and feedback during the call so that everyone feels like they have a chance to participate. Doing so will make sure everyone is paying attention and will make sure that everything that needed to be addressed during the call actually was addressed. Depending on the type of conference call service you use (see our list for the top five free services below), there will be other unique ways to encourage participation, including creating polls and having an interactive Q+A section. If you do plan on using one of these additional services, make sure you and your attendees are familiar with how it works beforehand. Sending out an email or a group message reminding everyone how to participate is a smart way to increase overall engagement during conference calls.
4. Minimize Distractions
While one of the benefits of conference calls is being able to join from anywhere, it’s important that you try to minimize distractions for everyone, especially if you’re the host. If it’s possible, avoid calling in from public places that are noisy or, if it’s a video call, that are filled with lots of people. Although it’s sometimes unavoidable, these types of distractions can be annoying and potentially even prevent you and your guests from discussing everything that needed to be addressed on the call.
5. Be on Time
One of the worst ways to start a conference call is to show up late. Even five minutes past the scheduled time can make your attendees irritable and leave them with the impression that you don’t value their time. By getting on the call early, you also make your attendees feel like you’re prepared and ready. Plus, it helps your guests avoid that awkward “you’re the first one here” message that can make them second-guess if they have the call-in information correct.
6. Prepare Visual Aids
Not all conference calls need the help of visual aids. But, for some, they really enhance the conversation. Once you’ve created your agenda for the call, look through your notes and determine if there’s a need for visuals. If so, take time preparing the visual props and be sure to let your guests know that it will be a video conference call. If you expect your guests to also share with video, let them know so that they can prepare. Nothing is worse for your guests than being asked to join via video when they were expecting just a voice call.
7. Follow the Game Plan
While you can spend a lot of time preparing for the call, that doesn’t automatically guarantee that you’ll actually follow your agenda. Be mindful of what you want to accomplish on the call and do your best to be as efficient as possible as you check each item off. If you’re encouraging others on the call to participate, it’s also your job as the host to make sure no one else is monopolizing or simply wasting time. Remember: everyone, including yourself, is busy. The longer your call goes, and the more off-topic it gets, the less people will remember — and the less excited they’ll be about the next call.
8. Shorter is Better
When in doubt, always err on the side of shorter conference calls. While everyone will complain about thirty-minute conference calls that take an hour, very few people will be annoyed when it’s actually just twenty minutes. Throughout the call, keep your eye on the clock so that you can do your best to get your attendees out on-time — or before. There's nothing that employees appreciate more than a meeting that doesn't take time out of their already-busy schedule.
9. Provide Notes
If you know your conference call is going to be long, or if there are several important topics that people need to remember, then providing notes for your guests after (or before) the call is important. These notes will ensure that all of your most important questions, comments, and ideas are remembered and, if there are any actions that need to be taken by your guests, that they are specifically reminded about what they need to do and when.
10. Record the Call
Always be sure to record your conference call so that, if anyone misses it, they have an opportunity to watch. Recording the call also helps you learn what you can do better next time, like slowing down when you’re talking, improving the visual aids you use, or staying more focused on the agenda. In addition to notes, sharing the call in its entirety is a nice way for participants to go back and review as necessary.
5 Free Conference Call Services Every Business Should Know About
While there are plenty of paid conference call services out there that are great, there are also lots of free services that can easily compete. Here’s a list of our five favorite conference call services and why…
1. Google Hangouts
We love the video and audio quality of Google Hangouts, not to mention how familiar it is for so many users. Because all you need is a Google account to join, using Hangouts often means that your call attendees don’t have to worry about setting up or logging in to a different, unfamiliar account. Hangouts also integrates with apps like Google Docs, which means sharing info quickly is a piece of cake.
Like Google Hangouts, Uberconference allows you to share files from Google Drive during the call. It’s also integrated with Dropbox and Evernote and allows for simple screen sharing. One of the best parts about Uberconference is that there are sound controls that help you minimize ambient noise if you happen to be in a busy office or popular coffee shop.
One of the more popular services on this list, Zoom is a great free conference call option for businesses – especially if they rely heavily on video conferences. The app is easy to download and access, making future calls fast to get to for everyone on your team.
If you have clients or team members that will be joining internationally, then FreeConference is one of the smartest options because it’s toll-free. You can use FreeConference via phone and web with access to convenient screen sharing and chat features.
As a comprehensive all-in-one collaboration software, Samepage allows you to do things like communicate via mass texts, file sharing, and even surveys within your group. While Samepage offers a free service, it also offers paid options for additional features like private teams and extended storage.
By optimizing your conference call strategy and performance, while utilizing the right conference call service for your business, team collaboration can be more efficient than ever. Whether you're running a brick-and-mortar or online business, you can start hosting better conference calls that waste less time and get more work done by following these tips.