There is a picture traveling around LinkedIn of an office that keeps its meetings short by having everyone present stay in plank position for the duration. This is a great, funny idea, but not realistic for most business settings. Plus, plank position could be further complicated if the meeting attendants were in a phone meeting.
What can a boss or employee do to make phone meetings more efficient and effective?
Before the Call
1. Set an agenda
Do this in advance and circulate the agenda to all the meeting attendees to give everyone a chance to prepare for the discussion and consider any questions they might have.
2. Estimate time needed
Take a moment to estimate in advance the amount of time the group will spend on each line of the agenda. This can also serve as an advance indicator that there are too many items to address in a “thirty minute call.” Decide if some issues could be handled on a separate call with a different group of interested parties.
The average employee attends 62 meetings monthly.
3. Revisit the attendee list
The agenda can also act as an effective guide of what team members actually need to be on a call. Avoid wasting team members’ time by considering whether everyone’s input is required or whether it could be more useful to have just a few voices involved.
4. Assign a leader
Democracy is great, but when it comes to meetings it’s a good idea to place one person in charge of the agenda. The leader can keep everyone on track, field questions, and insure that the meeting starts and ends on time. Consider the amount of time typically wasted just waiting for everyone to join the call.
5. Ask “does this need to be done by phone?”
There are going to be times when something can be handled more effectively live and in person and others when it could be just as efficiently managed via email. Make a conscious choice before adding that item to the conference call agenda.
During the Call
6. Focus on the meeting
Phone meetings are seen by some as an opportunity to catch up on emails or perform other business tasks. This can slow down the meeting for everyone as questions will be asked of the person paying half attention and there will be a delay in response. Or the multitasking individual will lose track of the conversation and need repetition of an aspect already addressed.
Avoiding distractions and listening actively (a big difference from simply hearing) can make every member of the meeting an effective participant, which only aids meeting efficiency.
The salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses in $37 billion.
7. Avoid speakerphone.
This often creates difficulties for someone listening at some point in the call. The meeting leader should start the call asking if everyone can hear the call clearly and inviting each participant to introduce themselves each time before they speak.
“Avoid guessing games,” Darlene Price, author of Well Said: Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, told Forbes. “Don’t assume that everyone will recognize your voice. Identify yourself every time you speak—or at least the first three or four times until your voice is established and easily recognized.”
8. Set aside final minutes for a recap.
By planning ahead to leave a few minutes at the end to summarize the call and make plans for next steps, the meeting leader can insure people get off the phone feeling that something has been accomplished.
After the Call
9. Follow up in a reasonable time frame.
The meeting leader can follow up on the call with a concise email with bullet points addressing all that was covered and delineating who is responsible for what future action. This email should have a useful, short subject line, and be addressed to the relevant recipients (rather than everyone in the office).
Poorly written communications cost an average of $2100 to $4100 per employee annually.