Tips for organising, convening, and participating in teleconferences
- Ensure that all participants have the necessary materials in hand well in advance of the conversation. Has someone written an agenda for your teleconference? Are there key figures or reports you or someone else will be citing within the conversation? If so, it’s imperative to circulate any relevant documents a week ahead of your teleconference. This gives all parties ample time to review and/or print materials as needed, so everyone has them at the ready when it’s teleconference time.
- Keep a running list of who is responsible for what (potentially someone different to the minute-taker). Did someone offer to share a synopsis of their recent work? Did another person volunteer to circulate more recent statistics? No matter what it is, keep tabs on who is doing what, so that it’s clear once the meeting’s over what needs to be shared among the group. This could be done by recording the calls, but current practice has not shown a need.
- Be sure to take detailed minutes and distribute them immediately. Since teleconferences can be that much trickier to follow, by virtue of their faraway participants, it’s especially important to document the conversation with detailed meeting minutes. These should include who said what, and which action items and deliverables are supposed to be followed up by whom. Once the teleconference has concluded, have the meeting’s minutes typed up and distributed to all attendees as quickly as possible, so participants can review what went on while the conversations are still fresh in their minds, and set straight any inaccuracies or miscommunications that may have occurred.
- Stay conscious of time zones. Large differences in time zones are much more of an obstacle to collaborative development than not being in the same room. Try not to: cross over a lunch hour; keep people from leaving work on time; ask people to get to the office early. Alternate for fairness and be flexible (if possible).
- Ask all participants to introduce themselves if there is a new person on the teleconference. Even if everybody knows one another, voices can be difficult to place over the phone. Going around for quick introductions acquaints everyone with the sound of one another’s voice, so it’s easier to tell who’s speaking.
- Stick to one speaker at a time. While people talking over one another is never advisable, it’s especially problematic in teleconferences when participants can’t always see who’s saying what. Be sure to have only one party speaking at a time. Potentially the Collaboration could use Netviewer for this – people could be invited to use it, and indicate when they would like to speak.
- Keep a running list of who is responsible for what. See responsibilities of the minute taker.
- Ask everyone to identify themselves before speaking. To assist the person who is taking minutes, as well as those who aren’t in the room with you, be sure to identify yourself each and every time you speak within a teleconference. Again, not being face-to-face could lead to confusion, so better to be perfectly clear for all parties.
- Change the way you ask for feedback. For example don’t use the question “Does everyone agree?”. Remote participants can’t answer easily without talking over each other. We could use the voting facility within Netviewer for those who are using it, making it easier to obtain feedback from the people who are not using it.
- If you think someone has finished talking, confirm it. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean someone is finished. Ask them explicitly “Anything else?”.
- Think about sequencing the discussion. Teleconference participants don’t know when it’s their turn to talk. Consider going around the virtual table, inviting each participant to talk on each item, ensuring that no-one can interrupt them. Make it clear to everyone that they can ‘pass’ if their name is called.
- Essential material should be repeated so that the minute taker is confident that s/he has the correct information. Because you may not have easy access to long-distance members of your meeting, it’s especially critical to get what they’re saying right. To this end, if you hear what seems like an important statement or figure, feel free to ask the speaker to repeat it to ensure you got it down accurately: “I just want to be sure I got that correctly, [name]. May I repeat that back to you?”
- Leaving the meeting. If people must leave during the meeting, gain closure on any issues that they participated in before they leave. For example, “[name] agreed to prepare a cost estimate by next Monday. Is that correct, [name]?” Make adjustments in the agenda (if appropriate) based on the remaining participants.
- Start on time. Make it a habit to start on time. Stragglers will soon learn they should be on time if they want to know what’s going on. You can even give participants forewarning of your punctuality in the email invite to the call: tell them “the conference call is scheduled for 10 am and begins promptly at 10:02.” Then keep your word.
- Watch for “sound effects”. Be especially aware of anything you’re doing that might be making noise. Whether it’s rifling through papers, clicking your ball point pen, or drumming your fingers on the table, these noises can prove distracting and irritating, especially during a teleconference when people must listen even harder than usual.
- Stay on topic. Again, what’s unfortunate in a face-to-face meeting is dismal in a teleconference. Straying off topic should be avoided, since teleconferences entail aligning schedules from a distance, making meeting time all the more valuable.
- Try to speak slightly more slowly than usual, with an emphasis on clarity. Anyone who’s had to listen to someone over a speakerphone knows that clear speech can often fall by the wayside. So that you don’t have to repeat yourself and waste valuable meeting time, make an extra effort to speak loudly, slowly, and clearly.
- If you come up with an important point or question, write it down. Not all great ideas come at a time when it’s your turn to speak. Be sure to jot down any key questions or points you’d like to make if they arise while someone else is speaking.
- Don’t multitask. If you catch yourself multitasking, be responsible for your full participation; turn off cell phones and PDAs; stay out of your e-mail. Engagement and interaction is critical. It’s important that when you are participating remotely, you are as engaged as if you were in a room face-to-face.
- Don’t mute your phone unless necessary. Staying off ‘mute’ allows you to participate readily in verbal conversation without a pause and gives the Convenor a greater sense of whether you are engaged and alert.
- Leaving the call. If you must leave during the call, gain closure on any issues that you participated in before you leave.
- Joining late or leaving the meeting early. Make sure you let the Convenor know you will either be joining late or leaving early and announce when you join or leave the teleconference.
- Using the phone. If you are speaking on your desk phone (and are alone), use the handset instead of the speakerphone if you can. A speakerphone, while useful, sometimes distorts your voice, picks up background sounds (like office equipment). If you must have both hands free while you talk, obtain a headset.
- Dial in on time. Whether you’re the leader or just an attendee, you should dial in on time. You aren’t any more important than anyone else… so be careful of other people’s time, and get on that call when you said you would. If you must be late for some reason, IM or email another participant if possible and give them an ETA for when you’ll be on.
Taken with permission from Cochrane Collaboration