I’m a conference call disaster

By Jaimy Ford

I can present in front of the most intimidating chief officers without an once of anxiety, speak comfortably and candidly to my own boss about difficult topics and build rapport with experts who have far more knowledge than me in their various fields.

Yet the minute I lead a meeting via teleconference, it’s like a whole new person takes over. One that stumbles over words, botches usage, fails to articulate and sprinkles in far too many “ummms” and “uhhs.”

I’ve resolved that it’s the lack of a visual connection that throws me for a loop. Without the ability to play off of people’s body language and facial expressions, I struggle. I rush. I become awkward and nervous. The banter and conversational tone that usually come naturally to me slip away.

After a recent teleconference where I walked away feeling particularly dissatisfied with my performance, I set out to uncover tips for improving this weakness. Here is the top advice I discovered:

  • Have a plan. Even for brainstorming and problem-solving sessions, provide attendees with a detailed agenda and outline assignments to complete before the meeting. That way everyone is prepared to contribute, and you won’t be the only one offering ideas.
  • Don’t talk so much. I know that I rush to fill the silence much more quickly during a conference call than I would during a face-to-face interaction. Without the benefit of visual cues, you can’t tell if someone is thinking, if they’re stumped or if they’re outright angry. Avoid the urge to jump in. If it’s quiet, call on someone to offer input.
  • Require participation from everyone. I have learned firsthand how much more interesting a meeting can be when each of the participants is responsible for covering a part of the agenda. Doing so keeps you from being the only voice on the line, and it keeps other attendees tuned in.
  • Streamline your agenda. Covering too much in one meeting can cause you to rush, which leads you to fumble your words or speak too quickly. A few 20-minute conference calls can be much more effective than one 60-minute call.
  • Avoid multitasking. Yes, someone will need to take notes—and it might as well be you—but resist the urge to check your email or tackle other tasks. If you do, you will almost always tune out momentarily, and you’ll disrupt the flow of the meeting as you try to get back on track.

What tactics do you use to better communicate during teleconferences or phone calls?

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