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Young Lawyers Conference

A Conference of the Virginia State Bar.

Practice Tips

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Conference Call Fundamentals

By Chris Fortier

 

That first conference call may make you feel like you have made it. However, the first conference call you lead will be a different experience than in-person meetings. Many habits in planning and executing in person meetings transfer to the conference call setting, but consider the following:

 

Know the hardware and software

Make sure that you have software that allows for scheduling and for hosting a conference call. If you are in a workplace that has Microsoft Outlook, you have the tools to plan and schedule meetings. However, if you use your resources, you have many options that are free and easy to use. Conference call apps such as freeconferencing.com and freeconferencecall.com provide a line with a virtual conference room, playback line, recording capabilities, audio upload, question and answer queue, and smartphone functionality.

If you have a conference facility at your disposal, take the time to learn the facility and how to use the technology. It will save you time and make you look professional with your attendees.

 

Find a Time to Meet

Your attendees’ meeting experience begins here and it needs to begin as hassle free as you can make it. Propose different days with morning, lunchtime, and afternoon times. Set the amount of time you will use (30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc.). Provide options but more than 10 choices becomes unwieldy. Set a deadline for replies. For scheduling meetings, applications such as Doodle or Timebridge helps your meeting attendees to state available times and allows you to see the results in a grid. Follow up with lagging attendees but if they do not follow up by your deadline, set your meeting time. Follow up with an email announcing the time.

 

Set an agenda

Another key component to a great conference call experience is the agenda. Setting your agenda in advance allows your attendees to prepare for the meeting with remarks or additional helpful materials. Give your attendees the chance to shape the agenda. Ask for issues to discuss while finding your best time to meet or add an agenda item for their concerns. Communicate Again Follow up one to two days before the conference call by email or calendar invite with the call in number and an updated agenda. Calendar invites send your materials (and dial-ins) into your attendees’ calendars and set reminder alerts for your call. Double check dial in numbers to ensure that you provided the correct number and room code.

 

Dial In (On Time) & Identify

Dial in on time! If you dial in too early, you will end up with idle chatter. Call in late, you will lose your attendees’ patience or attendance. Additionally, you have less time to accomplish the meeting’s purpose. In the first few minutes of the call, be sure to invite everyone to say their name. If you have more than 10 people on the call, you do not need to do this.

 

Keep Noise to a Minimum (Mute Large Groups and idle chitchat)

If there are more than 10 people on a call, you will have “silent” attendees. Invite everyone to mute their lines or you can mute all lines on your conference call application. You do not have nonverbal cues to aid you. Keep everyone focused using verbal cues, meaning, state where the meeting is via the agenda, ask the questions that need to be answered, and provide prompts and redirects when needed.
 

Watch the Clock

Your meeting attendees will make great points and discussion but they will lose track of time. As moderator/leader, you need to occasionally state the time and how much is left to cover. If you run over your allotted time for the meeting, attendees will leave the call to attend to other obligations. If you are near running over and want action items from the meeting, stop the meeting and review the action notes while everyone is still on the call. Draft action items and follow up To maintain project momentum, provide a written summary of the meeting with the decisions made, action items with responsible parties, and when the next meeting will take place, generally.

 

Chris Fortier is the President-Elect of the Young Lawyers Conference and has served in many capacities with the Virginia State Bar and the American Bar Association. He works for the Social Security Administration in Falls Church, Virginia. His remarks do not reflect the opinions of SSA or the Federal Government. He prepared this work on his own time.