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Summary:

I’ve just experienced the worst phone conference of my career. It was a complete shambles, which certainly didn’t inspire any confidence in me about the project the “team” is supposed to be working on.

I’d prepped detailed questions about the project, set a timer on my computer so I was ready to expect the call, and had my project notes handy. I was all ready to go. Unfortunately, the team wasn’t, and the meeting was a failure — almost!

Here’s a quick refresher on the ingredients for a successful phone conference.

phoneI’ve just experienced the worst phone conference of my career. It was a complete shambles, which certainly didn’t inspire any confidence in me about the project the “team” is supposed to be working on.

I’d prepared detailed questions about the project, set a timer on my computer so I was ready to expect the call, and had my project notes handy. I was all ready to go. Unfortunately, the team wasn’t, and the meeting was almost a complete failure!

Here’s a quick refresher on the ingredients for a successful phone conference.

Timing

As I was readying myself for the call, the team leader sent me an SMS to let me know that the project manager was stuck in another meeting. That is understandable, but the problem was that I had another meeting immediately after the conference. I told the team leader this so that she knew, and she hurried the project manager straight into the teleconference when the other meeting ended.

These kinds of eventualities can’t always be avoided, but if you’ve scheduled a phone conference with someone, it’s important to be on time, especially when some (or all) attendees are working remotely, and there’s no face-to-face opportunities to appease them.

In my experience, if the person who called a phone conference is running late, people will drop out of the conference much more quickly than they’d drop out of an on-site meeting. If you want to run your meeting, be there and be punctual.

Technology

When the team leader called me, the PM by her side, we experienced some major connection issues, which were perpetrated by their speakerphone.

Sometimes, connectivity issues can be impossible to predict, but it’s a good idea to check out your equipment and make sure it works before you try to use it in a meeting. In the end, it took three calls and a switch of speakerphone for our teleconference to get under way.

Preparation

Once the meeting kicked off, I started working through each of the questions I had about the project. The more specific my questions grew, the more apparent it became that my team members didn’t have their project documentation in front of them. In the end, they asked me to wait while they grabbed it, so they could answer my questions.

I started to get the idea that this project wasn’t anywhere near the top of my team members’ priority lists, so I began to consider shifting it further down my own. But their lack of focus also reduced my faith in them, so in the end I decided to step through the entire project with them so that I could confirm all the details, rather than just those I’d been especially uncertain of.

It’s rarely sufficient to just roll up to a meeting with the documentation in hand. You need to have read it and understood it if your teleconference is going to be a success and the other attendees are to respect you — and the priority you’ve given to the issues under discussion.

Follow Up

I was so unconvinced by my teammates’ performance in the teleconference that when it was over, I wrote up the decisions we’d made in the meeting and sent them through for the team to approve. This way, I felt I’d at least covered all my bases: If the team decided later that they didn’t like where the project was heading, or they hadn’t considered all the information, at least I’d have this emailed agreement as a justification for more time or budget for the project.

I think it’s always a good idea to follow up any teleconference with minutes or contact notes, just so you can ensure everyone’s on the same page. But it’s imperative when decisions are hard to reach, the outcomes of the meeting aren’t clear, or team members want to make note of any reservations or conditions they tabled.

What’s your recipe for a successful phone conference?

  1. maybe the problem is that people cant be all prepared at same time.. maybe you should try only same place(like forum or gmail threads or via voice mail)

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  2. Curious, what brand of speakerphone?

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  3. [...] Recipe for a Successful Teleconference (tags: blog work) [...]

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  4. In this case, it seems that you were part of the problem: Why didn’t you send the team members your list of detailed questions *prior* to the teleconference?

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  5. Georgina Laidlaw Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    Hey guys, thanks for the comments.

    TG, unfortunately, I can’t say — not sure what kind of setup these guys have in their office.

    WillIT, my colleagues called the meeting that morning, and both they and I had meetings prior to *our* meeting, so we were meeting cold. You make an excellent point, though :) If I’d been able to send my questions through ahead of time, the outcomes of this meeting could have been far more easily reached.

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  6. something which is easily overlooked when holding conference calls with overseas participants is that many services only provide 800 access numbers. while this is fine with domestic participants only, these 800 numbers are generally not reachable outside the us, or sometimes carry hefty charges. make sure your provider offers an alternative international (or better yet, local) number for your overseas participants.

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