Conference calls are fraught with danger. Previously, it was improperly used as a reluctant secondary tool when a face-to-face was just not practical, but there was no impetus to get it right. All of us would have had experience of wasted hours, poor concentration, multi-tasking (a euphemism for just not focusing or caring), with people “dropping off”, background noise and distracting backgrounds! Now, in a global pandemic and a new world, we have to get them right, as conference calls will be the new normal in team and organisational communications and meetings. In a time when we are forced not to meet, and so not to get the full emotional context of communication, it is even more important that we do so in the most effective way. The outcome of a good call is clarity, cohesion & collaboration, and if you forget about the first letter of the word, the list grows to include excitement, engagement & motivation all of which equals performance. Get it wrong and there is confusion, chaos & cloudiness and resentment, frustration & despair, equalling poor performance
Some facts about how we communicate and how we concentrate and these are driven by the neural physiology of our brain. The reality is:
• We can only concentrate for about 23 minutes at a time
• Multi-tasking is a fallacy – our mind literally flips between activity – we lose focus
• Once concentration is broken, it can take up to 20 minutes to re-focus
• 55% of the emotional context in communication is gained visually
• People absorb information in different ways – visual, audio, digital & kinaesthetic
• People make decisions in different ways – reactive, reflective, collaborative.
So let us work with the facts and not fight our brains, but take the guidance instead and in so doing we will challenge poor conference calls and create a beautifully simple and effective way of sharing information, debating key issues, making decisions and agreeing planned actions. The impact of getting it right is extraordinary, but it will take discipline to make it work; the leaders’ role modelling is vital here. In reality, these steps are not just about conference calls; they are relevant to all meetings. We have been given an opportunity to challenge our current inefficient ways of working, and we know they are inefficient as we dread long conference calls. So let’s be disciplined now to fully prepare ourselves for the new world and make sure it is a better one.
The TEN Disciplined Steps to Effective Conference Calls
1. Share information before the call – diarise – Enough time in advance for people to read and digest – Be disciplined to read and digest before the call – Now we all know what it is about – a big question! “Do you NEED to be on the call”? If not, then say so now and save your precious time
2. Share questions before the call – diarise – Don’t hold your questions until the call, share early – As questions come in, collate and prepare a response to share on the call
3. Have a chairperson (not necessarily the call owner) whose roles include; – Controlling the time – Ensuring everyone is heard – Maintain focus
4. For multiple topics create multiple calls and use the “Pomodoro Technique” – 23 minute call then a 7 minute break – Up to 4 times maximum then add a 30 minute break
5. When not talking – Mute and only un-mute when speaking – Listen and concentrate with intent to deeply understand – be present
6. When talking – Look at the camera and not at the screen images – Be aware of how you are framed in the camera – top of head missing? Too close?
7. Prepare your space – Remove all distractions. Shut down your email and all notifications – What else is in view of the camera? What background? – Ensure your face is lit fully – no “dark side” – Elevate the camera so you look directly at it, not down on it
8. Create space before and after – No back-to-back calls; give yourself space to prepare beforehand & digest after
9. Follow Up – Share the decisions and actions with all the attendees – If you are actioned, acknowledge.
10. Check-In & Check-Out – Always start with a “Check-In”, to share how people are feeling and what distractions they may have. Honour each other, honour yourself and be present. And at the end, Check-Out – how do you feel now?