ESTABLISH EXPECTATIONS UP FRONT
If you are the moderator scheduling the conference call, send out a list in advance with pertinent information. This information should contain the Purpose of the call, dial number with PIN code if necessary, the moderator, the start time, the end time, list of participants and specific agenda items. Attached relevant documents to email invitations for the conference call so the participants can prepare in advance. If documents are required from other participants to review on the call, make sure that these are coordinated and completed in advance. The more prepared you are for the call, the productive the time can be and the better able that you will be to stay on schedule.
List the purpose or topic of the call clearly and succinctly. This should be the goal or objective of the call. Typically a conference call should be limited to one or two specific goals. This enables you to keep the conference call focused and succinct. In some cases it may be more difficult to keep a conference call focused on a specific topic. For example, when reviewing the schedule for a large project there may be multiple topics that are relevant to time milestones in the project. If this is the case, keep the call focused on specific milestones that are due or relative to the point in the schedule.
Sometimes conference calls are used to gather information from many people in the field. These group calls can be effective if the purpose is for a moderator or manager to disperse information to several people simultaneously. However, if the call is used to gather information from several different individuals as a weekly update to management, is it really an effective use of time for anyone other than the manager? Is it really a good use of time to interrupt the schedules of many people to conduct a social town hall discussion in which each person waits in silent anticipation for peers to give a weekly update? Consider how much more effective it would be to obtain a written weekly report in lieu of a conference call. A written report can be read at convenience, creates a reference document for discussion if necessary, and enables the manager to work with priority or confidential communications in an appropriate manner. If you are already using both weekly reports and conference calls, then it is time to do some soul searching to determine if any of the communication is being treated with value or if it has just become a meaningless routine.
DIAL IN and PIN NUMBER
Always include the conference call Dial In Number and PIN Number on the invitation and any scheduled reminders. Make it easy to find the number. It can be a distraction to have people dial into the conference call late because they could not find the phone number.
Every conference call should have one identified and assigned moderator. If there is a group of peers, it may be appropriate to rotate the role of moderator from time to time with repeating calls, Typically, the individual creating the invitation is the moderator. The moderator is responsible for making sure that the call starts and stops on time. The moderator is responsible for keeping the call on track and gently guiding individuals back on track in the event that conversation begins to run away on a tangent. The moderator may also be responsible for controlling emotional responses or maintaining a professional level of courteous communications. It may be necessary to encourage some individuals to participate, or discourage some individuals who may have a tendency to filibuster. It is the responsibility of the moderator to keep the call on schedule and focused on the purpose of the call.
It is the role of the moderator to reduce or eliminate distractions or interruptions. It is the role of the participants to remain quiet and respectful unless there is something useful and relevant to add to the conversation. Distractions may sometimes appear as opinions, jokes, anecdotes or personal stories that contribute very little to the progress of the conversation. It is the responsibility of the moderator to control the call and keep it focused.