Conference Calls: Twelve Golden Rules

The most widely used tool for mobile, distributed and virtual teams is still the plain old telephone conference call. However it is also the most badly used! So whether you are talking over Skype, mixing it with screen sharing and messaging, using your corporate PABX or just calling in to an external service if you follow these 12 simple rules you will get much better calls.

Conference Calls: Twelve Golden Rules

1. Pick a reliable service. Its better to pay a bit for a good call than to pay nothing for a call which does not work properly and wastes everyone’s valuable time.

2. Send out two emails. Send the first one when the call is set-up and the second one close to the scheduled call time. State the purpose of call, who is chairing it and the call-in details.

3. Text a reminder. On the day of the call – for those who did not read your email or who are on the move.

4. Arrive Early. Don’t arrive fashionably late – it wastes other peoples time and money. If you are the chairman you must be the first person on the call.

5. Keep it short. Never more than an hour. Thirty minutes or less is best – don’t overrun no matter how important it is. Reschedule. Otherwise no-one will turn up at your next call!

6. Use your best phone. Only dial in on mobile phone if you have no other options.

7. Keep the noise down. Don’t dial in from somewhere with background noise. Always put you phone on mute when you are not speaking to avoid transmitting background noise.

8. Watch the small talk. Its OK to use the first few minutes for people to socialise the meeting through some small talk but this needs to be controlled as people may be ringing in on expensive mobile calls. Meeting latecomers should simply state their names on arrival and the chairperson should resist the temptation to bring them up to speed by summarising the meeting for them.

9. To the point. Keep all your contributions very short and focussed and don’t ramble.

10.¬†Don’t¬†interrupt. Pause. Make very sure the other person has finished speaking before you start to avoid “talk-over”.

11. Manage the call. If you are the chairperson don’t let one person dominate or destroy the call for everyone else. Don’t do it yourself either!

12. Sum-up. The chairperson should summarise the key points and send out (or delegate) a very short email summary within 24 hours.

5 Replies to “Conference Calls: Twelve Golden Rules”

  1. I read through your article and i disagree with two statements:
    8. No small talk. Just say your name introduce and get it started.
    Virtual teams need time to connect with each other which helps build trust. Without trust people may be more hesistant to share ciritical information. At the beginning of a meeting it is useful to spend 5 minutes (as part of the agenda) and check-in with each other. This is not a time waster-this will build team cohesion.
    12. Sum-up. The chairperson should summarise the key points and send out (or delegate) a very short email summary within 24 hours.
    In virtual meetings people tend to multi-task-one way to ensure this does not happen is to let people know at the beginning of a meeting that one person in the team will be asked to recap the meeting but they will not be told until the end of the meeting who that will be.
    Be careful when using this technique-make sure this agreed to by all members of the team before using this technique. One way to get agreement is to include it in your team operating agreement
    Claire Sookman
    Virtual Team Builders

  2. Hi Claire
    Many Thanks for your comments. I take your point on the small talk – I was trying to cover all types of teams including those where the people see each other very regularly not just virtual teams and I think I am trying to say that small talk needs to be controlled. I will reword it.
    Your other comment is an interesting technique for encouraging engagement but I think it is more for the large enterprise virtual team and does not seem appropriate for many virtual business networks and communities, where there is no central authority, It simply would not work and the minutes would never get written!
    Best Regards

  3. Ken
    I wanted to quickly jump in here and give a plug to a client. You may want to take a look at ooVoo. It’s at And it’s a video based telecom service just like Skype – only it’s more lightweight and you can have up to six people talking at once at various locations.
    And I totally agree with number 4. I’ve been on calls where I feel as if I have to entertain someone that I’ve never met. Can be very uncomfortable.

  4. Actually if you don’t mind, I’d like to add one point myself. Have supporting documents in front of you. That way you can speak with certainty and won’t be winging it.

  5. John
    I like your extra point about supporting docs – however that would make 13 golden rules which does not sound good – can you suggest a couple more?
    Best Regards

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