By Rafael Cortes, Marketing Manager for Foehn

Telephony plays a pivotal role in business communications and the conference call has become an increasingly popular communications tool, partly because it provides a fast and efficient alternative to face-to-face meetings, especially where long distances might otherwise be involved, but also because technology has made it easier for people to work and collaborate.

As well as enabling a multitude of geographically disperse individuals to participate in real time, calls can be digitally recorded and stored, welcome messages may be added as well as a company’s preferred on hold music.

Of course, conference calls vary in terms of their importance to the participants and what is being discussed. It may be the case that a call will only last a few minutes and covers some tactical discussions or it could be a scenario where strategic decisions are being made and a call may last several hours.

It would be easy to just assume that a conference call will take its own course and the outcome of one will be as good as the next, but not all calls are as successful as they could be and this can be down to a number of factors, from poor planning and inadequate preparation to confusion and lack of follow up.

Here are a few top tips to help your business get the most from conference calls and further advice and tips about telephony usage can also be found here.

Top tips

1. Set the optimum time

The timing of a call during the day and week will depend on several factors, such as how urgent the call needs to be through to the geographic location of each of the participants. A call may need to be organized quickly if, for example, there is a new customer requirement and they wish to speak with your representatives within a matter of minutes or hours. One of our customers deals regularly with companies that are displaced through disasters like floods and they frequently use conference calls at short notice to assist their clients.

If a call is to involve several individuals in different locations around the globe, obviously be mindful of international timings. Not everyone is at their best at three in the morning! Similarly, for many businesses regular conference calls are best planned within the week rather than at the very start and end. This is largely because people may need to get activities sorted out on a Monday — following the weekend break - and may have their attention and minds elsewhere late on a Friday afternoon.

2. Set the objectives

Before a handset is lifted or a conference bridge dialed, it is often useful to set out the objectives of the call among the participants so that there is clarity throughout the discussion. Better decisions can be taken and further actions set if everyone on the call understands the common purpose.

3. Be prepared

Some conference calls are more detailed and complex than others according to the subjects and topics being discussed. For some preparation is minimal, but for others prior research may be needed and activities undertaken to make the call more successful. Participants may be subject specialists and will need to bring to the call their own knowledge and experience to help inform others. Or there may be separate tasks or research that participants are required to complete and bring into the call.

Whatever the requirement, effective preparation will not only reduce the amount of time needed on the call, but decisions are usually better informed and may be made faster. The outcome might be, for example, that a project moves on more swiftly or an important decision can be taken which will help the business.

4. Be on time!

As with any meeting, it is important to be punctual and ready to participate, allowing time to dial in and not leaving it to the very last moment. Delays can result in calls simply not starting on time or having to be rescheduled because other participants have other meetings or things to attend to. Delays can also mean participants having to go back over the early part of the conference call for the benefit of latecomers.

5. Appoint a chairperson

The dynamics of a conference call can throw up all sorts of challenges, especially where there are a large number of participants involved with their own vested interests. Keeping control of a call is important because, as with any meetings, digressions and disagreements can veer a conversation into all sorts of different directions and into a few blind alleys. The chairperson’s role is to ensure that the conversation is in line with the objectives and involves the active and fair participation of all on the call. One person dominating a call, for example, may not lead to a successfully desired outcome for the business.

6. Record the meeting

Face to face meetings and conference calls share a common issue in that not every participant will have the same recollection of a discussion and its subsequent actions unless the content is recorded. This may be simply be a case of someone on the call taking notes and sharing the minutes (or whatever you prefer to call them!) afterwards or actually recording the conversation digitally so there is no subsequent room for ambiguity and confusion.

If there are important points discussed and if there are actions that need to be taken as a result of the call, it is important to share the discussion as quickly as possible after the call so that everyone is aware of their actions and responsibilities.

7. Be mindful of the background!

Finally, be aware of your surroundings and any potential background noise and interruptions. There is nothing worse for other participants when all they can hear is a cacophony of other voices or noises that have no place on the call.