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Even a well-planned teleconference can go poorly. Some people treat any meeting as a casual social activity instead of as a serious business project. And a teleconference brings special challenges because people attend them in the privacy of their office without being able to see or be seen by the other participants.
Use these techniques to hold a more effective meeting by phone.
1) Begin with a quick round of self introductions so that everyone can find out who is present and hear everyone else’s voice.
2) Enforce the rule of “one speaker at a time.” Multiple conversations ruin a teleconference.
3) Insist that people announce when they join or leave the conference.
4) If people must leave during the meeting, gain closure on any issues that they participated in before they leave. For example, “Pat agreed to prepare a cost estimate by next Monday. Is that correct, Pat?” Make adjustments in the agenda (if appropriate) based on the remaining participants.
5) Keep everyone focused on the issue being discussed. If someone introduces an idea that seems unrelated, say, “That sounds interesting. How does that relate to the issue?”
6) Record the conference. First, this will help you prepare minutes. And second, it encourages people to make meaningful comments. Of course, you should announce that you are recording the meeting before you start.
7) State your name each time that you speak. This helps everyone know that you are speaking.
8) If you are speaking on your desk phone, use the handset instead of the speakerphone. A speakerphone, while useful, distorts your voice, picks up background sounds (like office equipment), and makes a poor impression on the listener. If you must have both hands free while you talk, obtain a headset. Note: It is more courteous to speak to people through the handset (instead of the speakerphone) on any phone call.
9) Speak clearly to make sure that you are understood. Take the extra effort to enunciate carefully and speak slowly. Of course, you want to sound natural.
10) When stating numbers, write them out while you speak because that defines the rate at which everyone else is capturing them.
11) Then ask the receiving party to confirm numbers (or other critical data) by repeating them. Although this may seem awkward, it prevents misunderstandings. Better yet, send written copies of all critical information.
12) When possible, plan your statements by jotting down an outline of your key ideas before speaking. This contributes to a more efficient meeting, helps you appear more thoughtful, and avoids the embarrassment of making a verbal gaff.
13) Use your best, most focused listening skills. Pay addition to content, as well as inflections, voice tone, word selection, emphasis, assumed intentions, and your intuition.
14) Avoid shuffling papers, moving about, or tapping objects. Everyone else will hear the noise. It’s distracting and irritating.
15) Reinforce accomplishments by distributing copies of key ideas and agreements during the meeting. You can send these, for example, by e-mail or fax.
16) Stay fully present during the meeting. Avoid working on other tasks, such as reading mail or filing papers. These reduce your ability to participate intelligently in the meeting.
17) Avoid using the mute button to talk to someone in your office during the audioconference. First, this shows discourtesy to both parties – the person in your office and the people in the teleconference. It also takes your attention away from the meeting, causing you to miss important information. And be warned that people have found themselves in serious trouble when the mute button failed.
18) Prepare minutes soon after the meeting. Send a draft to key participants to confirm that your notes accurately describe the results of the meeting. Minutes should be released within a day or two after the meeting in order to be useful. After that, they become stale.
Properly conducted, teleconferences contribute to the efficiency of effective business. Use the above techniques to make sure your meetings do that.