Conference Calls, Management, Meetings

Meetings and Conference Calls …

As a Technical Program Manager, one of the key tasks is to bring various teams together and ensure that everyone has the same understanding of the goals of the program. And to do this, I often find myself working with team members who are remotely located – either in different parts of United States or even others countries. In the current world-is-flat environment, this is almost unavoidable.


In an hour long meeting, I have seen meeting facilitators spending about 15-minutes in dealing with logistics, distractions, or issues related to connection of the conference call. That is a fourth of the meeting time not used effectively! It would be funny, only if we weren’t talking about taking care of some serious business.

There are ways ensure that all participants are on the proverbial “same page.” Here’s how:

Set a Clear Agenda

This would seem obvious, right? Well, not really! Next time you’re invited to a meeting, see if the facilitator has an agenda? Chances are 7 our of 10 times, people think that they can wing it.

It is important to prepare for your meeting. Have a clear agenda as to what the topics are. It would be good if you can identify the time-limit that you would like to spend on each topic; this will give you an idea if the time would be sufficient or if you’d need a follow-up. If there are other attendees that you think should be leading certain topics, as the facilitator it is your responsibility to work with them before the meeting and let them know so that they can come prepared.


Encourage participants to use Meeting ID

Conference bridge providers (like GoToMeeting) provide you with a participant ID, which every participant can enter; however most people just press # and join the meeting. The advantage of entering the Meeting ID is that it allows you, the facilitator, with the option of muting any participant. This might especially be helpful when someone does not put themselves on mute and there might be excessive feedback or background noise. How many times have you had to stop the flow of the meetings to ask everyone who is not speaking to go on mute??

Develop the 3-minute rule to start a meeting

I have had all kinds of people in my meetings; people who are generally 5 minutes before the start of a meeting and ones who are regularly 10 minutes late. One gains a reputation and is generally true to that reputation. As a facilitator, you should respect the people who showed up on time and start within 3 minutes. This way you have given some leeway to the slackers, but also signal that you will not let people hold you up on your agenda.

Have a single speaker at-a-time

Every now and then, a smaller group will be so engrossed in the topic that they will start a side-bar conversation. While the intent might not be to derail your meeting, as the facilitator, it is your responsibility to ensure this is curbed. It is absolutely OK to politely let them know that you will cover that topic later in the meeting (if you intend to do so), or that you will have a follow-up meeting on that topic later. You are the facilitator and you control the direction of the meeting

Set separate time for questions (or not!)

You can preface during the introduction, if you prefer to take questions in the middle of your presentation or if you would rather that people  reserved the questions until a dedicated time for Q&A. I am ambivalent on this, I see merits and demerits in both. I tend to make this call on a case-by-case basis. But either way, know what might work for the topic and with the audience and state that upfront. I am also curious to hear your feedback as to what you think about this?

Define Action items, very clearly in triplicate!

Now that you are coasting into the meeting, ensure that after each agenda topic, the action item is called out. This means, identifying “what” the action is, “who” is responsible for its completion, and by “when” they are required to complete it. This should be repeated at the end of the meeting and also sent in a memo to the participants electronically later. These three “what”, “who”, and “when” really hits the mark and when emphasized in triplicate, ensures that it cannot be ignored.

Are there other items that you’ve practiced that you’ve found effective? Please do share! ♦


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