How to Handle Conference Calls: 4 Questions Answered

We talk a lot about how to prepare for great conference calls and why you should use them in the first place. But many times what people want to know most is simply what they’ll experience when participating in or hosting a call. What do I talk about? How long does it last? Who’s on the call? These may be simple questions, but they’re actually important ones.

Let’s try to answer some of these common questions with a few quick tips so that you know just what to do the next time you’re on a conference call.

What do I talk about?

While the possibilities for what to talk about on a conference call are endless and totally depend on your business, there are a couple of general guidelines to follow.

First, you should stick to one general topic for the call for best results. While many may use conference calling for standard weekly meetings, it’s best to avoid having a conference act as a catch-all meeting when the contents might not pertain to half the attendees or represented departments.

Second, hosts should simply share what they want to get out of the conference as an easy way of introducing the call. Outline the agenda, and give your best estimate of the time each item will take. You’ll keep your audience’s attention much better and keep everyone on track.

Lastly, participants should expect to speak directly to the current topic, and only when they have something valuable to contribute, or they are asked or addressed directly. This will help avoid everyone getting off-topic, and keep the call at a short length.

How long is it?

Expect or plan for a conference call to last about an hour. It can definitely be less—there’s no need to fill time because you wanted to round to an even number in your email invitation. It can also be more in some cases, like a large event conference or an in-depth training video. But even then, a conference generally should not go over two hours.

If you’re the host, do your best to reroute conversations that are veering off-track or too long according to your agenda. You can take a side discussion that doesn’t fit in the current conference “offline,” offering to discuss it individually with one person or the appropriate group of people later, perhaps after everyone else has left the call. Do everything in your power to end the conference at the same time you said you would.

If you’re an attendee, honor the call length that’s provided to you in the email invitation, or however you heard about the conference call. Set aside the designated amount of time, plus a little extra in case it goes long or you want to discuss something further afterwards. Don’t jump on the call saying, “Listen, I have to be in another meeting at 3:30, so I’ll just duck out then.” It’s disrespectful to everyone on the call when you operate only on your own schedule.

Who’s there?

So who are all those other faceless voices on your phone conference, or that one person seemingly writing a novel via the chat on your web conference?

Conference call hosts should know exactly who’s on the call by opting into features that allow them to see who joins in, what their names are, and when they leave. Many phone conferencing services will allow you the option of hearing attendees’ names announced on arrival, either to you privately or to the entire group. You should also keep the attendee list as small and relevant as possible for the topic at hand.

Participants should always briefly state their name before speaking, especially if everyone on the call can only hear their audio, they are not a main speaker, or they haven’t already spoken or introduced themselves. This will help keep it clear to both host and attendees who’s speaking and be able to attach context to the verbal content.

What if I miss it?

It happens—despite your best intentions, the reminders that a call is mandatory, and the ways you can access it on-the-go, you’re going to miss an important conference call from time to time. However, there are several ways to make this easier on you, the host, and the other participants.

Hosts typically can and should take advantage of recording features through their conference call service. Record the conference call start to finish, and make it available online for those who miss it. You’ll avoid the time and annoyance it takes to fill someone in on the material. Hosts should also send out a recap of the conference when it’s done, just as you would with meeting minutes. Include any plans made, deadlines imposed, or next actions to take.

If you’re concerned that a detailed recap and available call recordings will encourage people to skip the actual live call and rely on the review, sneak in something that will discourage that. Offer incentives that are only discussed or given out during the live call, for example, or ask attendees to reply to the recap email with a point from the call they liked best.

Here at Conference Calls Unlimited, we don’t think there are any stupid questions! We encourage you to learn more about how and why conference calls work, and that only happens when you start asking questions—then participating in quality conferencing yourself. Feel free to contact us through the information on the right.