10 Rules for Effective Conference Calls

In today’s age of reduced travel, conference calls have become a daily ritual.  Nobody likes conference calls. They are usually boring, energy-zapping time sucks. But they are a necessary part of business. So, here are 10 suggestions for making them more effective and efficient.

In today’s age of reduced travel, conference calls have
become a daily ritual.  Nobody likes
conference calls. They are usually boring, energy-zapping time sucks. But they
are a necessary part of business. So, here are 10 suggestions for making them
more effective and efficient.


1.      Keep statements short and ask for frequent feedback

When many people participate in a
call, it is easy for minds to “wander.” Keep your statements short. Ask for
feedback frequently.  Ask direct
questions.  Don’t ask, “Are there any
questions?” but rather, “Dan, what do you think about this phase of the project
plan; are we under-budgeted?”

2.      Don’t use slides if you can avoid it



OK, now let’s move to slide 5. Can
everyone see this slide?

(Slide with 12 rows of text
appears. Jill proceeds to read all 12 lines of text.)


(Dead silence – everyone is on
mute, reading mail, playing Solitaire or checking news, sports, and weather…)

Looking at slides laden with text
is really, really boring. You can easily kill a discussion with slides. And
worse, you can’t even control what people are looking at – most of them are skipping
ahead to see how much pain they will have to endure. The smart ones will clock
the amount of time spent on each slide, then extrapolate to calculate how long
the torture will last.

3.      If you must show slides, don’t send them ahead of time.


Don’t send slides ahead of time.
You blow all your ammo before you get your partners on the phone. They will
probably have gone through the deck before they get on the line – freeing them
up to read email, news, or play Solitaire while you drone on and on. 

Even if you don’t send slides
ahead of time, try not to subject people to slides via WebEx or GoToMeeting
either. Rather, use primary sources of data. For sales calls, show real product
demos, for project meetings, show project graphs, high-level financial
information, etc. If you must show slides, limit them to just a few and make
sure that these rock.  Slides aren’t a
crutch for not being prepared. Rather, they are an aid.

If participants want the slides,
send a set that summarizes the call, after the call. This will serve as
a meeting protocol. Even if they don’t look at them right away, it represents a
good summary for future reference.


4.      Send out an agenda ahead of time and stick to it

Whether a sales call, status
meeting, product feedback meeting, support call, etc. – make sure you have an
agenda so everyone knows the purpose of the call, approximately how long it
will last, and what they are expected to prepare before the call. This reduces
anxiety for all. When people dial in to an audio call, they don’t have the
visual cues that are present with a face to face meeting – the added clarity of
the agenda makes the call go smoother.

5.      Use video if possible



Frank, what do you think?

(No answer.)



Is Frank still on the line.

(More silence…)



(Fumbling to unmute his phone)

Oh, sorry, did someone ask me something?
I had the phone on mute.


Since you don’t have visual cues
on audio calls, people mute their phones and tune out. Then they do really
important things, like play video games, carry on parallel conversations, or
just sleep.  Providing visual cues
through video keep participants engaged. Skype and other VOIP services offer video
as a basic service – there is no reason not to take advantage of it.

6.      Let the participants know if you are recording the call

Some companies record calls for a
variety of reasons (to retain summaries, for training purposes, etc.) – if you are on
the call with people from other companies, make sure you let them know you
are recording the call…and make sure they are okay with this.


Here are a few obvious ideas, but one that most companies
can’t seem to get right…

 7.      Start on time



Is Bob on the line?

(No answer.)




(Very long silence.)


Can someone call Bob on his mobile
and see why he isn’t dialing in?

If you calculated the amount of
time wasted waiting for people on conference call in your company, you would be
amazed. 6 people waiting 10 minutes, is 1 hour of productivity in the toilet.

On a related note…

8.      Make sure the moderator dials in early


Hello? Anybody else there?


Anybody there?


Yoo hoo?

(All three wait on the phone,
listening to the Scorpions’ ‘Still Loving You’ loop over and over, until the
moderator joins.)

9.      Don’t dial in from a mobile phone


Whose line is buzzing?

(No answer.)


Can whoever just joined, please
hang up and dial in from a land line?

(Buzzing disappears…..and
reappears after 30 seconds.)

Don’t dial in from a mobile phone
or from a land line in a noisy place. If you must call from a mobile phone, make
sure you are in a quiet spot, that you have good cell coverage, and that you
have a full battery (or a recharger). There is nothing more annoying than
background noise on a call. It’s hard enough to concentrate on a clear line, with
many people on the line.

10.  Set limits on call duration

This is even more important than
setting time limits for face-to-face meetings, since the amount of energy lost
in a call exceeds that of meetings. The lack of feedback is a huge energy
zapper. Limit calls to reasonable lengths so folks know what to expect.

Everyone has funny con call stories. If you want to share
one, I would love to hear it. Send it to


About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.