Dear Meeting Guru,

Our department has conference calls by phone. Do you know where I could locate audio meeting tips on running an effective meeting when no one can see each other? Thank you!

Large Investment Firm

Blessed Meeter,

Meeting without visual cues is a difficult task. Research shows that in teleconferencing, as opposed to face-to-face meetings, the level of common understanding drops by 60%. This is an obstacle for you, but it can be overcome. How? By ensuring that messages are transmitted and received with as little variation from original intent as possible.

To better understand the conference-call process, see the diagram below:

Noise greatly hinders the effectiveness of a conference call. Noise is more than just sound, such as someone yelling or a dog barking. It also consists of preconceptions, lack of knowledge, or any extraneous information and distractions that disrupt or misconstrue a message. Although overcoming the noise barrier may seem overwhelming, if the communication process is well managed, your conference calls can be a hit. Here are some ways that you can meet with success:

Prepare the troops: Let everyone know the purpose of the conference call and the ultimate goal to be accomplished. Before the meeting, give meeters a copy of the agenda and any documents that will be discussed. A good rule of thumb is to distribute the agenda no less than one-half the time from the last meeting to the next meeting. For example, if a group holds weekly Friday meetings, the agenda should be out no later than Wednesday at noon.

Be organized: Enlist one person (or yourself) to be in charge of getting everyone on the line and schedule a time for each to be called. For example, if the meeting is to start at 10:00 a.m., tell Sally you’ll call her at 9:55, Bill at 9:56, Bob at 9:57 and Sue at 9:58. Leave yourself a few minutes in case you have to call someone twice or you lose a line. When you set up the meeting, make sure you emphasize that all meeters should be on time for the meeting, whether they are on the phone or coming in person.

The voice is mightier: Since your voice is the only tool you have to communicate with your fellow meeters, use it to your best advantage. Refer to people by name and assign them action items to keep their attention. Vary the pitch and speed of your speaking, and change your tone to add emphasis and meaning.

Stop the noise: The biggest problem with teleconferencing is misunderstandings. When you make an important point, have the receiver(s) reiterate what was said (i.e., feedback) so that you know your message was understood.

Take breaks: Teleconferencing requires a great deal of concentration, as meeters must absorb a lot of information and try to comprehend it without any of the usual visual cues. If the meeting is to last for more than one hour, take a 10-minute break each hour to allow team members to rest their brains and process information.

It takes a thoughtful person to recognize such a problem. As the all-knowing Confucius once said "the wise are not confused, the jen are not anxious, the brave are not afraid." A meeting coordinator who is intent on improving conference calling is sure to meet with success. Go forward with fortitude.

Until next time… may good meeting karma always be with you.



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