Conference calls are rarely the highlight of anyone’s day, and when not run efficiently, they can be a huge time and productivity drain. If you’ve led calls where co-workers have been known to take a nap while you’re talking, then you know that keeping conference calls productive and engaging isn’t exactly easy.
Here at Dropbox we have a number of regional offices — some thousands of miles and many time zones apart — and we know that sometimes conference calls are the only way to get everyone on the same page. While we’re far from perfecting them, we’ve picked up some tips along the way. Here are 5 simple ways to keep your conference calls both productive and engaging.
1. Keep it lean
Or as we say at Dropbox, “get to simple.” This applies to both meeting occurrences and participants. When planning a conference call, the first question to ask yourself is whether you really need the call. Could an email do the trick instead?
If you do decide the call is in fact necessary, keep the participant list limited to those who really need to be there. (Nine times out of 10, people will not be offended if they’re not included.) Remember that people will often get just as much value — and sometimes more — from reading a meeting summary than from actually attending the meeting.
If you’re still tempted to include a large list, first estimate that even at a conservative hourly rate of $20 per hour per person, having 10 participants works out to a $200 meeting.
2. Do your homework
Plan the agenda and circulate it among the participants in advance so everyone can come prepared. At the minimum, participants will know exactly what to expect and can help the meeting stay on track; at best, they can come prepared with talking points or even data points to contribute. Tools like Asana are a great way to put together lightweight meeting plans; check out their video on meeting prep for some inspiration.
3. Get everyone on the same page (literally)
We’ve all been there — trying to send everyone the presentation you’re about to go over, or searching your inbox for that email attachment with the latest sales figures while everyone else on the call waits.
Skip the frustration and wasted time by making sure all participants have the right files quickly and easily accessible. A great way to do that is through file sync and share services. (As you can imagine, our team is a big fan of using Dropbox in these scenarios!) We make sure all reference materials — like agendas or presentations — are saved in a shared folder that participants can access, so you don’t have to worry about sending everyone attachments or waiting for them to find the specific email thread in their inboxes. Many conference tools like UberConference also integrate with Dropbox, so sharing files during the meeting is seamless.
4. Upgrade your tech
If you’re not already using a video conferencing solution, it may be time to consider one. Adding a video component to your conference calls improves the experience in a number of different ways — for one, participants are more likely to be actively engaged because they know they’re on camera. Plus, face-to-face communication (even the virtual kind) builds relationships, promotes empathy, and makes brainstorming more productive and fun.
5. Stay focused
The easiest way to waste time on a conference call is by losing focus. In the meeting itself, someone — typically the organizer — should be responsible for sticking to the agenda, stepping in when necessary to suggest that a particular discussion be moved offline. Participants will appreciate that their time is being well spent, and will be more likely to pay attention because they know the discussion is relevant. Remember to track those tangents, though, so people can follow up afterwards.