Done well, conference calls can establish consensus and expedite tasks. They can also waste time at an exponential rate with n equal to the number of individuals asked to stop what they’re doing and call in.To ensure the best use of time and technology without ticking off clients and co-workers, consider the following tips.

  • Avoid initiating a conference call unless it saves everyone time – not just you. Most questions can be answered by email. Request a “reply all” and include a deadline. Anyone interested will respond. A non-response may be a polite way of saying, “Let me know what you all decide.” If a follow-up call is required, you’ll have a shorter call-in list.
  • He/she who initiates, moderates. As moderator, be the first to call in, ask the questions, drive the agenda, end the call.
  • “Conference” is just another word for meeting, so the same rules apply. Let everyone know beforehand the purpose and desired outcome.
  • Conference calls work best when participants know each another well. Calls can save time when a working group needs to knock out a task. However, bringing acquaintances together on a conference call has the opposite effect, because…
  • The conference call culture is already artificial/affected versus organic/natural: auditory time lags, poor reception, disinterested and/or multitasking participants, reticence to interrupt or take charge, etc. Everyone’s using their grown-up voices and cutting-edge business jargon, but no one’s willing to ask: “What’s the bottom line here?” Polite, but peeved, they’re waiting for someone (else) to grab the bull by the horns and make a decision.

Conference calls are fine for initial introductions. They work well for brainstorming among peer team members, but not as well for decision making among acquaintances. If you are required to participate in a conference call, ask the moderator to email the purpose and desired outcome so participants are prepared to offer input. Go in with managed expectations: Your questions won’t all be answered, but you may get a sense of who to email and ask afterward.By Guest Blogger Denise D. Rhoades, Writer for Hartsook Companies