By Mike Taylor

Anyone who has participated in a conference call knows how badly they can go. Just getting everyone in the conference call can be a chore. Phones lose reception, people get distracted and there’s the person who forgets to mute themselves, leaving everyone vulnerable to a barrage of barking dogs in the background. And we’ve all experienced the weird sounds (heavy breathing, wind from a car window, buzzing) that seem to come from nowhere.

As humorous as bad conference calls can be, they’re a huge drain on time and productivity. If you want to respect the time of all parties involved, and keep your company productive, a little conference call etiquette can go a long way.

Here are 10 tips to keep your conference calls smooth and productive:

1. Watch the clock

When you schedule a conference call, set strict time limits. That’s not to say calls won’t occasionally go longer, but it’s important to make an effort to respect everyone’s time. Not only will people lose focus when a conference call drags on, but they also have to adjust the rest of their schedule accordingly, potentially throwing off their agenda.

2. Define “To-Dos” with deadlines and who owns them

Conference calls tend to be less formal and structured than in-person meetings. As a result, it’s easy to drift into an hour-long conversation about a particular topic and leave with minimal action items. If you want to improve productivity and the overall effectiveness of your conference calls, define action items as a priority, hold everyone accountable and give specific assignments, deadlines and deliverables.

3. Have an agenda, clear objectives and role expectations

Agendas are vital for a productive meeting, and an absolute must for conference calls. Knowing who’s leading the meeting, what needs to be accomplished by the end of the call, and who else is contributing are all key factors to making sure your conference call doesn’t turn into an obscure brainstorming session.

4. Stay on topic

Elaboration is necessary. Debates are bound to happen. These are natural and conducive elements of good meetings. However, don’t let your meetings get hijacked by off-topic discussions. Dive deeper on points when necessary, but always keep the underlying goal of the meeting in mind.

5. Introduce all participants

Without introducing everyone on the call before the meeting, it can be difficult to keep up with who’s on the line and who isn’t. Eliminate the possibility of referring to someone in third person when they’re actually in the meeting and the awkwardness of being on a call with people you don’t know by making introductions and properly identifying everyone on the call before it begins.

6. Use a screen sharing application

When you’re referencing a document, it’s best to use a screen sharing application so everyone can see exactly what you’re referring to. Cloud applications make it tempting to simply let everyone in a conference call access the document themselves, but that only adds confusion in making sure everyone’s looking at the same document and is on the same page.

7. Use visual aids

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people retain 65 percent of information from a visual and oral presentation and only 10 percent of what they heard from an oral presentation. When you use visual aids, be sure to number and clarify all slides in your presentation. This helps when referencing slides. Use visual aids in your conference calls to keep everyone engaged, but stay organized and label your visual aids in a way that makes them easy to reference.

8. Pay attention

No one likes talking to someone who is not paying full attention. Plus, it’s embarrassing to be called on in a meeting when you don’t know what’s going on. Everyone’s busy, but it’s important to make sure that when you’re on a conference call you follow these steps to eliminate distractions:

  • Put your phone on “do not disturb” mode or simply turn it off during the meeting
  • Don’t fall into the trap of checking your email
  • Close out all apps that may send distracting notifications
  • Practice exercising some good old fashioned self-control during meetings

9. State when you’re leaving a conference call

It’s extremely frustrating to be on a conference call and pose a question to someone you think is on the line, only to be met with silence. Announcing when you leave gives everyone on the call the opportunity to ask any final questions or make any final comments.

10. Use Unified Communications solutions to your advantage

Unified Communications solutions are phone systems with advanced applications built in for things like chat, conferencing, presence indicators, and more. They have made inter-office communication much easier, and they can be a major asset to conference calls.

Mike Taylor is a content marketing specialist at Digium.