Thanks to the Internet, it is no longer necessary to travel around the world just to attend a meeting. Conference calls have largely replaced face-to-face meetings in many situations, and for many businesses, they are a daily occurrence. Online conference call services make it easy and efficient to connect people in various places. In many ways, they have changed the ways in which we do business.

Unfortunately, those calls often are not particularly enjoyable. While undeniably necessary, they can quickly become long, tedious time sucks. Before you host your next conference call, make sure you are abiding by these rules to make it as productive and efficient as possible.

Create an Agenda and Stick to It

Whether it’s a support call, status update, sales call, or any other type of conference, come up with an agenda in advance and send it to everyone who will be participating. This ensures that all parties know what the call is about, roughly how long it will last, and what they will need to prepare prior to the call.

Once you get on the call, be sure to stick to the agenda that you created. Conference calls often drone on and waste a lot of time just because participants get off track. With a solid agenda in front of you, though, it is much easier to keep your focus and discuss what needs to be discussed.

Keep Your Statements Concise and Ask for Feedback Frequently

We’ve all been on a call where the person running it drones on and on. In these situations, it’s easy for your mind to start wandering. Before you know it, you’ve been on the call for several minutes, and you have no idea what the speaker is talking about.

Don’t be that speaker.

Keep your statements short, and follow them up with direct questions. Instead of going on for an extended period of time and then asking if there are any questions, discuss one point then ask a specific question. If you are talking about a new web design project, for example, mention the timeline, then ask the web developer if he or she sees any issues with the proposed deadline. Creating a back-and-forth dialog in this manner keeps everyone focused and can make your call much more productive.

Don’t Use Slides Unless Absolutely Necessary

Slides may seem like an efficient means of sharing information during a conference call, but they can be big time wasters. This is especially true if you use slides with several lines of text and you have to wait for everyone to read them. Also, you have no real way of knowing whether everyone is following along as they should be. Chances are, you’ll have some people who quickly click through all of the slides and then zone out for the rest of the call.

When you do need to use slides, keep them concise. Don’t go overboard. It’s one thing to have a “housekeeping” slide at the beginning that explains the format of the meeting or the agenda, but it’s another to have several slides for every point you are trying to make. Keep the text to a minimum. A lot of people find it difficult to read and listen at the same time, so if you are presenting huge blocks of text, you will probably struggle to communicate effectively.

When it is necessary to include slides in your call, don’t send them in advance. If you do, there is a good chance that at least a few participants will read them ahead of time and pay very little attention during the call. If participants want the slides to refer back to, sending them after the call is much better protocol. 

Use Video

Using video can also help prevent participants from zooming out during calls. When you are on a strictly audio call, there aren’t any visual cues. Participants mute their device’s microphone to listen in and easily get sidetracked by things like social media, video games, or carrying on other conversations.

When you use video, it helps keep people engaged. Participants are also much less likely to multitask during conference calls when they know that the host and other participants can see what they are doing. While not everyone is super comfortable with video conferences, they are the best option when you need to be certain that the participants are paying attention and engaged throughout the entire duration of the call.

Video can be a powerful teaching tool, too. It’s often much easier to learn by watching someone do something than by hearing them explain how to do it. And if someone gets confused during a video demonstration, it’s much easier to pinpoint exactly when the misunderstanding occurred.

Use the Right Conference Call Service

There are a lot of conference call services out there, and some are better for certain situations than others. Before you schedule a call, spend some time researching to determine the one that best suits your needs. Reliability is, of course, one of the most important things to consider. Think about what features you need, too. Different services provide different features. Some even have options that allow you to have an operator sit in on the call to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Once you’ve chosen a service, make sure you know how to use it. Learn the commands and how to utilize the features you plan on using. Waiting until you are on a call to figure out how something works can cause you to waste a lot of time. It can also lead to a frustrating experience for participants.

The Bottom Line

If you want to host an efficient conference call, you need to be prepared and use the right conference call service. Be mindful of everyone’s time, and strive to be as concise as possible. It’s also smart to encourage interaction by asking direct questions throughout the meeting.

By following the rules outlined above, you can be on your way to hosting better, more productive conference calls.