How Effective are Your Conference Calls?

Leconference callst’s face it, conference calls can be a nightmare! All those calls to the far side of the globe, sometimes at socially inconvenient times of the day or night, perhaps not knowing:

  • why you’ve been invited to take part,
  • who else is on the call,
  • who’s speaking half the time,
  • or even being clear at the end what’s been agreed.

Some people comfortably at their desks, others on their mobile in a taxi with a dodgy signal.

For some reason we tend to adopt a more informal style of the phone (all those calls to parents and friends?). My thesis is that we need to adopt more rigorous processes to get conference calls to work effectively.

The same principles concerning how to be effective in meetings apply to having effective conference calls. There are however more opportunities for telephone meetings to go awry. This is caused by the obvious problem of not being able to see the other people in the discussion and thereby not being able to judge their reactions to what is being said.

Here are some tips…

Appoint a Chair and agree clear processes

Most people adopt a more casual approach to telephone conversations. To compensate for this, it can be more important for someone to act as Chair and suggest an agenda and propose a process for discussing the issues. For more tips on the role of an effective Chair, see

Who is there?

Your first challenge is to ascertain who is listening or taking part in the call.

Who is speaking?

With several people on the call, it can be difficult to know who is speaking. A useful tip is to ask each person to say his or her name before saying something. “Tony here…I was thinking that…”

Being clear about decisions and levels of commitment to the outcomes

In a face-to-face meeting, it is relatively easy to judge when agreement has been reached and when everyone is happy with the agreement. In telephone calls this is harder to judge. One way of ensuring everyone is on side is to ask others what their understanding is as to what has been agreed and try to find out their level of commitment to what is happening next.

Listen for silences

Another clue that demonstrates that someone might not be fully on board is when he or she has gone quiet. Look out for this and, to check if everything is all right, say “Hans, I’m sensing you may have reservations…are you happy with the direction we’re taking?”

Look out for lack of agreements

Look out for situations when the other side might not be in complete agreement. In such circumstances, it may be appropriate to offer them the equivalent of a 10-minute recess to discuss the matter before continuing with the conference call.

By adding more rigour along these lines, I’m sure you’ll find your conference calls more effective.

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