How to facilitate productive meetings on teleconference calls
Don't you hate attending teleconference call meetings that go on forever and you can't determine the objective of the meeting? These energy-draining meetings dive to unproductive depths as participants wander into mental wasteland and begin multitasking instead of contributing value to the meeting.
As project leaders and team members, you need to learn how to facilitate effective virtual meetings for the benefit of everyone attending the meeting. The ability to plan and facilitate a productive teleconference call is a valuable skill to include in your resume. Here are the tips to maximize the benefits of meetings held on teleconference calls in large organizations to enable successful outcomes. Contrary to what you may think, meeting success is largely influenced by your preparation leading up to the meeting and not by the verbal agility of the meeting leader. The conference call is likely to flow smoothly if you have prepared thoroughly.
Preparation, preparation, preparation.
1. Schedule time to prepare for the call. Don't wait until the night before the meeting to plan out your outline for the meeting. Block time on your calendar to prepare for the meeting a few days before the meeting so that you can take action on the open items that you identify.
2. Define the "Blue Sky" outcome. What would be the best outcome of the meeting that you could possibly hope for? Write it down. This will guide your further actions regarding the meeting.
3. Invite the right people. Determine the objective of the meeting and then speak to a few people involved in the situation. Find out who needs to be at the meeting to give input and make decisions. Then invite only the people who need to attend. (Don't worry, they will forward it to enough other people who don't need to be at the meeting). Just make sure that you have all of the right people at the meeting to reach a successful outcome.
4. Speak with the key players before the meeting. Get time on their calendars and talk through the situation with them. Capture their concerns and proposed solutions. People are more accommodating if you speak to them one-on-one instead of presenting new information and proposals in a meeting. Use this time to become acquainted and build rapport with the people who are decision makers in the meeting or are likely to be the most vocal.
5. Create documents to capture the information and level set in the meeting. If your meeting has a lot of variables that will be discussed, then capture the level-set information before the meeting. For example, if you expect people to be saying "I can't do anything until Joe completes the design" and Joe says "I can't complete the design until Jane finishes the requirements" and Jane says "Requirements can't complete until Joe finalizes his expectations", then you are going to chase rabbits during the meeting. Set yourself up for success. Create a document with all the assumptions before the meeting so that you start the meeting by level setting what you have gathered from your conversations before the meeting. This will put everyone at ease and feel that you are starting from a solid base of facts.
6. Assign a scribe for the meeting. Don't try to do it all yourself on important calls. Ask a team mate to take notes for you so that you can focus on facilitating the call and stay present without distraction. Ignore email while you are on the conference call and stay focused on hearing what is being said throughout the call. If possible, record the call so that people can listen to it again and also for the benefit of interested parties who were not able to attend.
7. Have opening statements prepared, and scripted out so that you can read them to the audience. It is OK to sound as if you are reading the opening statements over the phone. Use this time to set the tone for the meeting and confirm the objectives for the meeting. This is not the time to wing it.
8. Prepare an outline for the meeting. Aside from the agenda, you also need a personal outline to follow when facilitating the meeting. Which points do you want to make and how much time do you want to spend on opening statements? Do you expect each caller to introduce themselves or will you quickly introduce the key participants? How much time will you spend on going over the information that you have already captured? How will you phrase the situation and the decisions that need to be made on the call? At what time to you expect to close the call? How do you expect to handle the next steps after the call and report back to the group as follow-up actions are complete?
9. Distribute the documents before the meeting. Ideally you should distribute the links to the documents a few days before the meeting so that participants have opportunity to prepare for the meeting. The best practice is to embed the links to the documents in the meeting invitation. Avoid holding a meeting where participants ask "Can you forward me the documents?"
10. Play it through in your mind. How is the meeting likely to flow? Who is likely to raise objections? Anticipate questions and concerns. How can you answer these questions before the meeting, or be ready to address them in the meeting?
11.Tell participants the meeting expectations, before the meeting. Call the attendees before the meeting to share your expectations in the meeting and ask them to prepare for the meeting.
12. Ask a trusted advisor to listen in on the call and give you feedback. Request specific and candid feedback - not the soft "You did great" type of feedback. Make sure that you hear what you need to hear to continue improving your facilitation skills. The key to receiving effective feedback is to solicit feedback from trusted advisors. Don't accept feedback from anyone who offers feedback to you.
13. Go into the meeting with the attitude of "I am prepared and am leading this meeting to a successful conclusion". Don't go into the meeting with the attitude of "What are we doing here? I am not prepared for this discussion".
Showtime: Tips for conducting the meeting.
14. Open the meeting and set the tone for the meeting. Open the meeting, on time, on an upbeat note and at professional pace. Make it clear that you are thoroughly prepared for the meeting and are moving along at a pace that will get you through the discussion on time. Read your opening statements and conduct the meeting.
15. Bring in humor if you can during the meeting. Be relaxed, lighthearted and friendly in the meeting.
16. Keep control of the meeting. The meeting will get off track. People will go off on tangents and tempers may flare. Be prepared to rein people in and have phrases to bring them back to the point. For example, you can say "Thank you for the contribution, let's stay focused on the topic at hand" or "Can we take that off-line" or "Just being mindful of the time here and need to keep moving towards our objective".
17. Watch the time. Do not let your meeting run over time. If you see that a discussion is taking longer than expected then call a checkpoint to tell everyone where you are and if you plan to finish on time or will reschedule the meeting.
18. Keep running lists of takeaway and action items. Either you or the scribe needs to keep a running list of takeaway or action items identified during the meeting. At the end of the meeting review the list of action items and takeaway items with the next steps so that everyone is clear on it.
19. Send out the meeting notes within 24 hours so that people can execute their action items.
20. Follow up on the action items. Schedule time on your calendar to follow up on the action items and make sure that they are brought to closure. Report the status back to the group until the items are closed.
Bonus tip: Your opportunity to facilitate a dynamic meeting is the opportunity to showcase your professional skills. Maximize the inherent networking and personal marketing opportunities. Enhance your relationships with the meeting participants by talking with them in your preparatory work. Demonstrate your skills during the meeting so that a future manager can identify you for a promotion.
Summary: Dynamic meetings are the result of thorough preparation. It is not rocket science - merely taking the actions listed above will help you to be the excellent meeting facilitator that you were destined to be.