Conference Calls: A Stealth Upgrade

I was asked by a course participant recently, “How can I make conference calls more useful when I’m not the person in charge?”

It was a very reasonable question. After all, research suggests that employees think about half their online meetings are a waste of time. And this student was spending four or five hours a day in conference calls.

Happy in conference calls?That’s a lot of wasted time – and a huge cost to their company.

This student was working with me to develop his facilitation skills, and the online meetings he called and chaired himself were becoming much more effective.

But when it came to other people’s meetings, things actually seemed to be getting worse – probably because he was paying more attention to how the calls were being run.

Now, he needed to develop his “stealth facilitation” skills.

Here are a few of the tips I shared:

Know why you are in the meeting, and tell others if you can

  • When you’re invited to a meeting, check why before you accept (enjoy this TED talk). Just doing this will help the organiser to get clearer about their own intentions
  • If you introduce yourself at the start of a call, add “… and I’m here to…” Others may well follow suit.

Ask lots of clarifying questions

For example:

  • “Can I just check – what specifically is the goal of this meeting?”
  • “Let me make sure I have this right – how much time are we allocating to this part of the meeting?”
  • “My understanding is that the key question we have to answer is X. Is that how you see it, Fred?”

Use visuals – even in conference calls

  • If video calling rather than audio-only is a possibility, suggest it to the organiser ahead of time and offer to help make it happen. It will take a few extra minutes of set-up, particularly the first time, but it will pay off because people will find it much easier to stay focussed.
  • Offer to take notes in real time where everyone can see them, for example in the chat window. Again, this will help people stay focussed and will usually keep them on topic. As the note-taker, you have a platform to ask more pointed clarifying questions. For example: “What was the action point on that?” or “Have we moved on to the next topic?”
  • Suggest other online tools which will add visuals to the meeting – for example, a post-it note board like

And all this has got me thinking. Should I run a stealth virtual facilitation course?

2 thoughts on “Conference Calls: A Stealth Upgrade”

  1. This topic comes up again and again in my coaching and training sessions with city professionals. With their global businesses many spend over 2 hours a day on group calls and only have “official” control of a fraction.
    With more distributed teams and an increase home working we are only going to see more of this type of communication in the future.
    So in short Judy, Yes, you should run a stealth virtual facilitation course. I will happily point some people your way!

  2. A valuable article Judy. It points to having a virtual facilitator rather than chairman. I suspect also that people may not treat such calls with the importance they attach to face to face meetings, so visuals would be a plus.

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