How to have better conference and video calls

Conference calls are now an established source of comedy videos. Attracting comments like, “Yep, that just happened to me”, they’re commonly held to be so bad they’re funny.

Do they have to be this way? How can the demoralising ‘squawk box’ or video call experience be improved?

Try these tips:

  1. Clarify in advance who’s attending – send a reminder before the call (say 30-60 minutes’ prior). Ideally set this up as part of the initial meeting invite process.
  2. Appoint a chair for the call – and state this in the invite. The chair should open the call.
  3. Allocate note-taking to several people ahead of the call – it’s impossible for one person to make accurate notes in real time of what everyone on the call is saying, so spread the load and allocate noting specific callers’ comments and questions to specific people. If you&re really lucky you’ll have recording and transcription technology, but I’m not seeing a great deal of this – yet.
  4. Start on time – don’t keep punctual people waiting. If most of your callers lack punctuality, set a minimum number of people who need to be present to proceed, then start.
  5. Check in at the start, with a quick, “Hi, this is [me]” or, “Hello, this is [X, Y & Z]” as you dial in.
  6. If you’re chairing the call, start with the objectives (why) for the meeting, then the agenda points (what) and set ground rules (how), such as how long the call is planned to take, asking people to be brief and saying how you’ll ensure everyone contributes.
  7. Remain aware of your voice and body language – with video, you’re being watched by the callers as well as any colleagues beside you. With video and audio, remember your voice – tone, pace, pitch and volume – will communicate more than your words alone (and your colleagues will be able to see you).
  8. Be brief and clear – or prepare to be interrupted! For example, simply stating, “I have a question about that” or, “I need to pick up on that point” and then making your point succinctly will be more effective than the speech elaborations we can all unwittingly use in face-to-face meetings.
  9. Use a visual device to record key agreements and actions as the call progresses. This could be a shared slide, magic whiteboard, or a paper flip chart in the same room as the person chairing the call. Add to this as the call progresses. Circulate a photo of the visual record to attendees at the end of the call.
  10. End on time, or earlier if possible, with a recap of the key points noted, particularly who is doing what, by when.

You may also find this blog post useful: More productive meetings mean someone has to take meeting notes.


Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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