It’s confession time!
Have you ever been on a conference call only to be multitasking with emails, text messages, projects or surfing the internet?
Of course, you have. We all have. We’ve all put our attention elsewhere when those who are speaking don’t earn our focus and the right to be heard. But what happens when the roles are reversed? We like to think when it’s our turn to speak, all eyes are on us. We believe people are engaged and interested in what we have to say – but are they?
Managing our listeners’ focus is a balancing act between where we want it to be versus where it winds up. Without face-to-face interactions, it becomes a game of chance. We really don’t know, without eye contact, if they are listening enough to know what is being said, let alone how to act upon what we say.
Most conference calls begin the same way. During the first minute, you become annoyed as you listen to the host drag everyone through a painful opening. Then, the minute they introduce a slide deck, you immediately divert your attention to something else. You keep your ear tuned in just enough to listen for questions or for your name to be called just so you can lead everyone to believe you’re paying attention. But you’re not. When the call is over, you wonder why it took an hour as you can only recall about 15 minutes of information at best.
Now let’s turn the table …
You’re the host of a conference call and feeling positive about its direction, until you suddenly realize you’ve been speaking for ten minutes without any interaction. You have no idea if your attendees are pages ahead of you in the handout, if they’re even on the call anymore, let alone listening.
We’ve been preconditioned through years of bad meetings to host ours the exact same way. It’s easy to fall into the trap believing that all calls must follow the same mundane method of every other call we’ve attended.
We treat our listeners like illiterate 2-year-olds, reading word for word to them from our handouts. On many occasions, my audiences confess two things that drives them craziest about conference calls:
• “When the facilitator is boring and doesn’t hold my interest.”
• “When the facilitator reads to me page by page from their handout.”
If you’re guilty, you’ve lost your listeners – their attention, the value of your message and the likelihood your ideas will be acted upon.
If you want to gain and keep your listeners’ attention and successfully influence them to act, you must create balance between you, your listeners and your materials.
This week follow these seven recommendations for every conference call you facilitate to increase your listeners’ understanding, attention and engagement.
1. When possible, schedule a video teleconference instead. This virtual face-to-face interaction encourages participation and engagement. If you have a handout, you can screen share with your listeners and control the rate of the page turn.
2. During the first minute, set the standards. “To honor your time and make sure expectations are met, I will interact with you throughout the call.” This statement sets the expectation that the call is for your listeners. They will get out of this call what they put into it.
3. Keep words on slides to a minimum. Research shows that minimal text with a maximum use of interesting graphics compel viewers to stay tuned for what’s coming next.
4. Throughout the call, frequently check in with your listeners. Ask questions to ensure understanding and solicit feedback.
5. Provide an introduction before turning to a new page, concept or idea. This is a reminder to your listeners where you are in your handout.
6. Take your time as you move from page to page and point to point in order to avoid rambling and sprinting through your points. Use a pause between ideas to allow the information to resonate with your listeners.
7. A conference call is not story hour. Your listeners are adults, so don’t disrespect them by reading every word. Instead, communicate the take-away from each page.
By implementing these tips for conference calls, you’ll increase engagement, create purpose and control what your listeners hear and remember. Give them a try and see if engagement in your next meeting improves.