Published on July 27th, 2018 | by Guest


How to Communicate Effectively on a Conference Call

Conference calls are an important part of doing business in today’s global economy. However, without the ability to connect with your colleagues face-to-face, much can be “lost in translation” as you can’t put a visual on the people you are speaking to.

In business, communication skills are just as important as being prepared. You may have a complete and detailed agenda in hand, but do you really have a handle on how you are going to engage your audience? If you can’t read their body language, how effective can your conversation really be?

This is especially true when connecting with colleagues overseas. Other cultures tend to respond differently to certain types of interactions and it may be difficult to gauge the meaning behind their responses. You might think things are going swimmingly when in reality, you have managed to dig yourself a hole that you can’t climb out of.

The good news is, there are ways to communicate effectively on a conference call and even the most free-wheeling of orators should be able to get a handle on them. It’s all a matter of taking the right approach. Think of it as radio, as opposed to television. They can’t see you, so you need to make sure they can visualize the meaning of what’s being said.

Lead the conversation and stay on message

Leadership is, arguably, the most important skill to have when conducting a conference call. As a leader, you need to be prepared beyond your agenda and be able to move the conversation along.

Keep the flow going, stay on message, and resist the urge to freestyle; even if that’s what you’re known for, this way of communicating doesn’t often come across well in a non-visual setting.

Be prepared, but don’t read from your notes

Even if you are not face-to-face, it’s easy to tell when somebody is reading from their notes. Their tone changes and becomes more mechanical. This is a sure-fire way to encourage people to tune out to what you’re saying in a conference call, no matter how important it may be.

The truth is, most people don’t write in a conversational manner – meaning that the words you choose to speak freely are probably not the words you would write. So, don’t read from your notes verbatim. Use your notes as highlights for talking points, a sort of roadmap for how you expect the conference call will go down.

Ditch the levity

If you’re having an in-person meeting, there is often the temptation to make jokes and light conversation as a lead-in to the bigger issues. In a conference call situation, this just doesn’t work. The lack of visual cues can easily make your humor come across in a way you really did not intend.

Stay focused

Further to the topic of staying serious and on topic, it’s important to stay focused throughout the call. As the call leader, you have the daunting task of keeping your colleagues focused as well and this may be a little more difficult than it seems.

When we’re in face-to-face meetings, most of us are aware of the tendency to tune out, look at our phones, make notes on other topics, fuss with our fingernails, and so on. We try hard not to do these things as it is distracting to others and just downright rude to the speaker.

In a conference call, however, these fidgety habits tend to get you completely off-track with the topic at hand. Take your attention away for one brief moment and you might just land yourself in an embarrassing situation, especially if you are called upon to weigh in on a topic or answer a question.

Don’t speak over others

With several people on the line and zero eye contact, you need to pay attention to the collaborative dynamic. Make sure each person is able to take the floor to make their point, ask questions, answer questions, and so on.

While having a heated discussion in person will allow you some leeway on this point, a conference call is an entirely different beast. To ensure everybody has the opportunity to take the floor, wait until they have stopped speaking to add your input.

Generally, a two-second break after they are done speaking is sufficient – unless, of course, they have gone on for entirely too long. If this is the case, you are within your rights, as the conference call leader, to interject.

Keep in mind that when two (or more) people are talking at once on a conference call, nobody will be able to hear what anybody is saying.

Lead the direction of the conversation

Another aspect of communicating effectively on a conference call is making sure everybody on the call has a chance to contribute.

Conference calls are generally for pitching, updating, commenting, and correcting. You have called specific people into the meeting because they have something to share. Make sure they have the opportunity to do so. There is nothing worse than allowing somebody to dominate the conversation with their topic only to find you’re out of time and only got a fraction of the work done.

As the conference call leader, think of yourself as a radio talk-show host or maybe a moderator, much like the kind you would expect in a political debate. Allow everybody a certain amount of time to speak and then hand the floor to the next person. Take control, keep things moving along, and you may have a much better chance of achieving the goals you set for the call at the outset.

Listen first, then speak

Lastly, resist the urge to dominate the conference call. You are connecting with these individuals because their contributions are important, so give them ample opportunity to speak their piece. After all, you won’t learn anything at all if you are doing all the talking.

Being an active listener will help you in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, it will indicate to you whether your colleagues truly understand the message or if they are confused about it. This will give you an opportunity to dive deeper into the issues while you have their full attention and correct course for future communications.

In conclusion, conference calls are a valuable business tool. They also represent a talent that must be developed. If you are working with remote teams, no matter where they are in the world, conference calls are an essential part of doing business. Master these essential conference-calling skills and the world is your oyster.

About the author:

My name is Kim Burmester, and I’m the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the ATLAS Workbase, a coworking and shared office space in Seattle.

My current experience as a Vice President for ATLAS helps me speak to this topic, and I also have over 10 years of experience working in Business Development that aids my knowledge as well.

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