With more and more employees scattered in different offices – if not countries – presenting your ideas or recommendations are often done by conference or audio calls. As much as the technology and equipment have improved over the years, it can still be a limiting way to present and difficult to facilitate.
Here’s some tips and suggestions to make this system as efficient and effective as possible. Apologies in advance for some obvious tips, but this is one topic where pointed reminders aren’t a bad idea.
Things to think about in advance …
Use a landline if at all possible. You don't want to risk fluctuating mobile or cell service, either for you as moderator or as participant. As for the squawk box, test it in advance. This might seem basic, but avoid doing the call while you're driving or any other activity. You will sound distracted and will be distracting.
Keep the agenda focused and simple. Have a clear objective, a reasonable amount of time for discussion, and your proposed outcome (“By end of the call, I hope we can agree that …”) Your agenda should have start and end times, as well as names of all participants.
Invite less people than more. It might seem like a good way to cover your behind, but more people equals more problems, especially when the room can't accommodate everyone comfortably. Stick to the key people, and promise the others you’ll distribute detailed notes after the call.
Manage your materials. Be clear everyone knows what materials are needed. Give them as much time as possible to review. If that’s not possible, single out the key pages, paragraphs or charts so that you don’t spend valuable time during the call allowing people to catch up.
Use page numbers on all documents, including on PowerPoint slides. If you have multiple documents, clearly label them "A", "B", and so on, so you can help guide people between them. If your documents are particularly complex, consider using numbers instead of bullet points so you can say, "Please turn to page 6, point #8."
Tips during the call itself …
Introduce yourself as emcee. Begin the conference by introducing yourself and your location, stating the objective of the conference, and giving instructions for audience involvement. Do a roll call to identify attendees. Check that everyone has all necessary documents.
Set and enforce the rules. Remind everyone of the ground rules during a conference:
- Everyone should state their name at the beginning.
- One person speaks at a time.
- Use the mute button when not speaking.
- Keep comments concise and focused.
- Park any thought or question if it doesn’t help the agenda move toward its conclusion.
Speak simply, clearly and slowly. Your voice – it’s volume, pitch, tone, clarity and speed – is your primary communications tool. #1 rule: E-nun-ci-ate. #2 rule: Don’t rush.
Also, participants can’t see your facial expressions, one of the primary ways listeners use to understand the context of what you say. This inability to read your expressions means that most jokes, sarcastic or ironic remarks can either be confusing or misunderstood.
Minimise all distractions. Usually, that means other people in the room, but also noise from any place inside or outside the conference room. Keep beverages and food outside the room as well. Put a “do not disturb” sign on the conference room door.
Some efficiency tips …
Use a technique known as "sliding." Don't staple your materials. When you finish a page, slide it left or right. There won't be paper flapping over the telephone/conference lines to distract your listeners. When you're finished, your presentation should be in backwards order. (Watch TV news anchors do this for an idea how it works.)
Use highlighting to help you. Highlight your key messages on each page. (In other words, don't write tiny notes to yourself on your documents.) You want to be clear and undistracted on the call. You can't do this if you're searching density for your thoughts.
Keep your mouth clear. Again, perhaps too obvious? But still, I've often seen or heard people eating, chewing gum, or my personal pet peeve - sucking on lozenges. And another thing: avoid covering your mouth with your hands.
And as you reach closure …
- Ask for summary statements.
- Recap action items.
- Thank everyone for their participation.
- Use a formal sign-off to end the conference.
Please share any other tips you might have. This is a big (and frustruating) issue for many people, so your thoughts would be greatly appreciated by other readers.