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April 14, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Disastrous conference calls? Never again with these 5 tips

We’ve all attended one — a disastrous conference call where almost everything goes wrong. The host is late. There’s background noise from someone using a cellphone on speaker while driving. Beeps announce late callers after the meeting has begun. Music begins playing when someone puts the line on hold.

If you’re a participant sitting at your desk, you roll your eyes and shift your attention from the conference call to your computer, where you begin scrolling through your latest emails.

But if you’re leading the conference call, you’ve probably just lost respect from the attendees — who may include high-level management. Your leadership skills are being judged every time you lead a meeting, which includes conference calls; taking a lackadaisical approach to them could actually hurt your career. Some tips for your next conference call:

Practice using the conferencing/webinar software. Your meeting shouldn’t be the first time using the technology. Set up a practice call and learn how to use all the features, including how to mute and unmute callers.

Prepare for the worst. Technology isn’t perfect, so have a backup plan. Email the agenda, the number/login information and the presentation to attendees ahead of time. That way, if something goes wrong with the webinar software, you can easily have participants switch to the presentation you sent electronically.

Check the equipment. If you’re hosting a group of employees in a conference room and others are calling in remotely, ensure that there’s an adequate speakerphone. Test it and any other media that will be used, such as a computer projector, before the meeting.

Play host. Dial in at least five minutes before the start time. Welcome people as they join and confirm their names so you know who is attending. Ensure that all participants received the information you emailed and have it up on their computers (or are linked in electronically, if you’re using webinar software).

Prep the participants. Before beginning the meeting, review the following topics to help avoid disruptions:

  • Ask dial-in attendees to put their phones on mute while they are listening to avoid background noise. Tell them to unmute their phone only when they have a question or comment.
  • Tell them to not put their line on hold; doing so might cause everyone to hear hold music, and you’ll be unable to continue the call.
  • Ask attendees using a landline to put their cellphones on mute and move them away from the phone so there won’t be any signal interference (an annoying buzzing sound).
  • Ask all attendees to speak loudly and clearly, and to preface any comments or questions with their name so everyone will know who is speaking.
  • Tell attendees that if someone joins the meeting after you’ve already started, you will pause to confirm their name so you can keep the attendee list accurate.
  • If the software fails, switch to the presentation you sent via email. Just remember to state the slide number you’re on so remote employees can keep up with you.

By following these tips, you’ll ensure that attendees are engaged and actively participating — and will be happy to join your next conference call.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, communication, etiquette, self-promotion, skills

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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