10 Tips for Teleconferencing
Updated: Mar 23
The coronavirus has lead to many companies suggesting teleconferencing as one of the most effective ways to collaborate with distributed teams without spreading the virus.
However, from people always connecting late to non-essential discussions taking up time – there’s a substantial distance between our expectations and what a teleconference ends up being. To many people, avoiding the next one doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all. Especially for the majority of people who believe that results are best-achieved face to face.
In this post, we will look at the ups and downs of teleconferencing, and then explore a few suggestive tips to run the most productive calls.
Ready? Then I’ll begin.
Gone are those days when you would have had to travel long distances just to have a face to face discussion. With video conferencing, you can connect with several long distance teams at the click of a button, allowing everyone in the team to be seen and present.
This saves you a lot of commute time, up to 30% in travel expenses when you choose to teleconference. Did you know, that 36% of employees would choose remote working over a pay rise!
While there are benefits, there are many drawbacks. Don’t you sometimes wish that you were in a regular face to face meeting? Everyone might be on time, but there can then be delays with setting things up, Internet disconnection issues with you and other people. All these extend the duration of a teleconference longer than what you had planned. Then you’re finally set up, but noise from the background makes it difficult for everyone to hear. It might be chatter from the kids in the other room, or music from the coffee shop that you’re working remotely from.
Perhaps you're attending teleconferences with lots of participants, but you have no idea what is being referred to, or even who is speaking. You would have to wait for the minutes to pass in order to get the full context, see all the attachments and make sense of what was happening on the call. People usually do not want to interrupt or ask questions to gain clarity for fear of looking stupid. This results in an even less productive call and sometimes a boring monologue from the meeting organiser. Have you ever felt like saying, “Don’t hang up, I still have something to say”?
In the middle of the discussion, knowing how and when to make your point can be tough – you do not wish to disrupt the discussion, but by the time you get to say something the meeting is out of time. Consequently, you might feel that the teleconference was wasted time, and you would have been better off with a few minutes of the call.
My 10 Ways to Run the most Productive Teleconference:
Here are my ways to prevent drawbacks and put an end to hating every teleconference. Running successful teleconferences isn’t hard, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
1. Distribute an agenda
We may not need to be a part of a call if we know what’s going to be discussed or why it’s important.
An agenda helps you to know your exact role in the teleconference, and prioritise it accordingly. It also allows attendees to prepare more effectively and make the teleconference a productive one. A good agenda should be simple, yet comprehensive. It should broadly consist of the objective, attendees and the points of discussion. One way of running a teleconference is to list agenda topics as questions the team needs to answer and assign specific people to each discussion point.
Fixing a specific amount of time for general points of discussion also helps everyone estimate the average length of the call and plan their calendars in advance.
2. Share links and documents in advance
The element of surprise does not help the chances of a productive teleconference.
Sharing relevant documents and links helps people prepare in advance, and give them more context. A person who has spent time going through these documents can then ask better questions, and help drive the meeting beyond the basics.
Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer adds, “When you have everyone remote, it changes a lot of things. When you just have a few people remote, they can easily feel like second-class citizens without full access to information.”
All related documents should be shared along with the agenda so that attendees have enough time to review everything and plan.
3. Be on time
If you want others to respect your time, you should respect theirs.
Fix the teleconference in your calendar, and if there’s a chance you won’t be able to attend, be sure to inform the team.
4. Schedule “trouble” time
We all hope for a perfect start to a teleconference, but that’s wishful thinking.
Even when you ensure everything is fine from your end, things might still go wrong. Someone’s network won’t connect, the internet connection might drop, a team member might have a problem using the conferencing technology, or someone important might get held up at the last minute.
It could take some time setting remote users up, especially when they’re new to the technology. Set aside the first 10-15 minutes of the teleconference to setting everything up. If it is a part of the agenda, then everyone would know what to expect, leaving little space for unexpected delays.
5. Reduce noise
You do not want to hear kids in the background when you’re trying to conduct a professional meeting. Any sudden noise can interrupt people’s concentration and the flow of the meeting.
A busy Starbucks or any other noisy public space is probably not a good option for a meeting. Even your workstation might not be the best location if there are too many people around talking.
If you’re at home, step into a separate room and shut the door. If you’re in office, step into the meeting room. If you’re a part of a video conference, it becomes all the more important to blur the background behind you!
Whenever possible, wear headsets which eliminate most background noise. They will help you clearly understand what is being talked about and what the other person is trying to say.
6. Introduce yourself before speaking
If you are all too shy to turn on the camera, it’s vital to introduce yourself at the beginning of the teleconference. Knowing your name and your exact role in the company would help everyone understand your role in the discussion and ask you questions whenever required.
If there are more than five people attending the call, it’s a good idea to mention your name every time you comment as everyone might not remember you.
7. Still use an Icebreaker
Do teleconferences have to be boring? If you are part of a large team, or you have new people joining the call for the first time – it’s always great to start with an icebreaker.
Something simple like asking them to share an interesting fact about themselves or if they would be a superhero/alcoholic drink/sandwich, what would they choose? To make it more fun, you can ask them to send a picture of where they are taking the call from!
Remember – an icebreaker isn’t always necessary, especially with teams that are already know each other. It could lead to an unprofessional start to the call or waste time, but it’s still fun to try!
8. Stick to the agenda
With a clear agenda in place, you’re off to a good start. But avoid extending the meeting by introducing items outside the agenda. It’s a bad habit to drag the call beyond the initially agreed duration. And if you do, it’s best to focus only on participants who need to be part of the extended discussion and let the others go.
9. Clarify roles
Attendees need to know what their role in the discussion is. Do they have to only listen, input or be a part of the decision making?
If this is not said, then it’s a mystery for them – which often leads to assumptions. If a person were to think he was involved in the decision-making process while he was supposed to simply listen, then it would cause frustration.
10. Recording and follow up
Minutes of the meeting are still an effective way to document the important points discussed, including those who couldn’t attend the call.
However, this can be time-consuming, so just record the call. Always let everyone know beforehand when the call is being recorded. People waste less time, and are more mindful of what they say.
No teleconference is perfect, and it’s important that follow up with all attendees is taken into account to solve any problems faced. Only then can you take active steps to resolve them before the next teleconference.
As a little extra note: You might think no-one’s looking, or it doesn’t matter. But it does! Where you are and how you’re dressed sets the tone of the meeting. You want to be taken seriously, even if you are working from home. Brush your hair and wipe the toothpaste from from your chin!