Improving Conference Call Facilitation

Have you ever played Conference Call Bingo? Basically, it is a bingo card full of squares with common occurrences that happen on conference call like a hearing barking dog, or someone asking “did ___ just join?” another person saying “can everyone see my screen?”. The regular rules of bingo apply, except it is frowned upon by most leadership to yell BINGO in said conference calls.

My theory on the development of this game is that conference calls can be a bit daunting for individuals who are left out of active roles in these meetings. Conference calls break down because of poor facilitation by the meeting organizer. Let’s look at a couple of ways to improve this and keep your participants from playing this game by looking at better conference call facilitation.

Have an administrator for large meetings

If technical difficulties are common or you have meetings larger than ten, have a person dedicated to managing the meeting. This person can help to get people logged in, check the chat, and be there to support when you need them. Call admins are invaluable for group discussions and unexpected technical issues that always seem to happen on these calls.

If one person is on the phone, everyone is on the phone

This is a hard rule to follow if most of the staff is in an office or there are only a few remote staff, but it is important. When a small portion of staff – or worse, only one – are calling into a meeting the facilitator should have the foresight to insist that everyone sit in their office and call into the conference line. This will cut down on side conversations, and not take for granted any technical errors that may be happening unbeknownst to the people in the room.

Have you been on a bad conference call? What are some other ways to improve conference call facilitation? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “Improving Conference Call Facilitation

  1. I get frustrated with the “Who do we have on the call” question. Inevitably there are awkward pauses and then multiple people responding at the same time.

    Instead, I like to approach it roll call style, by calling out the name of the person and allowing them to respond and, if necessary, introduce themselves.

    I also request that people identify themselves before giving input. This usually naturally fades as we become familiar with each participant’s voice, but in the beginning it is a lifesaver to hear, “This is Steven in Texas and I think…”

  2. We meet mostly by conference calling since our staff works remotely throughout the country (groups of 5-10). I am challenged with people talking over each other, or jumping in and going off on tangents, multi-tasking and missing questions asked of them, etc. It is difficult sometimes for everyone’s opinions to be heard. Some people get sensitive and will shut down. What are some ways you have found success in making conference calls productive and less frustrating for all?

    • Thanks for the question. Is video conferencing an option? That may keep people more engaged. If not, you may need to work on some sort of talking stick like activity where you can make sure that the people who should be talking have the ‘talking stick’ and for the right amount of time. You can drive some accountability with timing things, which can seem frustrating at first but it really does help the quieter folks feel like they have room on the call too.
      Feel free to drop me a line directly if you need more help with this.

    • We have treated all work issues with meetings to a point that it is hard to know what the purpose of a meeting is. Just because many people are in meetings all the time doesn’t mean that meetings shouldn’t be run with purpose and with structure. In fact, they demand it. Lynda, all the things you describe about an online meeting are things I’ve seen in person too. The best option might be to think less about strategies and solving the underlying problems of the meetings. Are they too big for what they are trying to achieve? Are the right people in them? Are there ground rules? Meetings aren’t easy. Structuring them and providing clear vision may help alleviate some of the problems you’re seeing.

  3. It has been helpful for me when leading conference calls to clarify in the beginning how to go about asking questions or making comments. Sometimes it is “feel free to speak up if you have a questions or comment” or it may be “please use the chat field to ask any questions” or “please utilize Skype for any questions or comments throughout this session”. Having this clarified up front cuts down on awkward interruptions and helps ensure that the question or comment gets received and addressed in an appropriate and timely fashion.

    • Thanks Melissa,
      I like that as well. Although if I am the only one moderating the call, I can get overwhelmed if I am trying to manage chat and talk, which is why I like an admin. I really like the root of your message which is ground rules, which I think are overlooked a lot at meetings in general. As facilitators, we should be letting participants know how they should expect to interact because they may not know.

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