There are many tools to make meetings between people in different locations seem as if everyone is in the same place. Unfortunately, most people continue to use voice-only conference calls instead of more complete tools like Skype or Fluentify, so let’s talk about how you can make a good impression on others and have a productive meeting during a voice-only conference call.
One of the advantages of a voice-only conference call is that you can wear your pajamas without anyone noticing. However, you should not be lazy when it comes to your preparation for the meeting. Determine what the purpose of the meeting is and write it down. Write down the names of the participants, their locations, and any background notes about the other participants.
The internet is a great resource to tap for this last part, specifically LinkedIn. I have been able to make observations about people that I have never met based on research on LinkedIn. People love to talk about themselves, so if you mention something from their background like, “I understand your College has produced many excellent CEOs,” they will like having the chance to speak about how great their College is, and in turn like you for having asked the question. If you feel uncomfortable looking up someone’s background on the internet, just remember you have more to gain than you have to lose. Only 5% of the people I have researched have asked how I knew the information about them and 0% was insulted.
If the people you are speaking to work at a different organization, do a quick search for their company under ‘Google News’ to see if anything noteworthy has happened recently. For example, if their company just declared bankruptcy, you may not be able to hold these people’s attention. Conversely, if their CEO just gave an exciting interview on the news, you can mention this and demonstrate your business knowledge.
Your preparation is complete and the call is beginning. Arrive early and have your notes by your side. As others arrive, check their names off the list. Since you already wrote their names down, you don’t have to do this now and can spend your time focusing on them. Remember how you wrote down where everyone is?
It’s important that you don’t greet everyone with “Good morning!” when it can be the morning in Italy but they are calling from Japan, where it is night time. Just stick with a simple “Hello”.
The next part is more art than science, but once you feel you have a critical mass of participants, you can move beyond “Hello” and start mentioning some of the research you did. For example: “Riccardo, I was concerned to read about the Tsunami that hit your island. Roberto, I hear you have a few software patents for Artificial Intelligence – I hope I am not talking to a machine.”
As you establish a relationship for a few minutes, do not interrupt what you are saying every time someone new joins the call and announces that they have arrived. Once you are about 3-5 minutes into the call, double-check to see that you have accounted for everyone and begin the meeting. Do not wait for people who have not yet called in, unless they are absolutely vital. You did research before the call to establish yourself as knowledgeable and personable. Do not ruin this by wasting everyone’s time. If you must delay, state “I apologize everyone, but we must wait until X arrives.”
Remember how you wrote down the purpose of the meeting? During the call, make sure the conversation is relevant to the purpose. If someone is trying to dominate the conversation with an unrelated topic, tell them you can ‘take it offline’ and have the conversation in another setting. For example, if the meeting is about how to make better hot dogs, but Jim wants to talk about the new Ferrari, you can simply say to him, “Lets’ take the Ferrari conversation offline” and follow up on that with him when it is appropriate.
As you near the time for the call to end, remind the others how much time is left. Make sure the conversation ends early so that you can use the last three minutes to summarize what you have discussed and most importantly, to assign the action items you identified to people.
Once the call is over and while it is still fresh in your mind, send an email to everyone in the meeting, thank them for their time, summarize the discussion, and remind everyone of the assigned action items.