How to prepare for a conference call
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How to prepare for a conference call

25th March 2020
By Tom Ladle

Conference call tech has been around for a while now, 1956 to be precise. It has become the go to platform when you want to gather several people in separate locations. Just like any piece of tech there are certain things you can do to get the most from it. We’ve written about conference call etiquette and making sure you’re prepared is a key part of this. So how exactly do you prepare for a conference call? Let us answer that for you.

Become one with the tech

Whatever platform you choose, become pals with it. This means understanding how to schedule and join a call. Scheduling a call is a piece of cake, all you need to do is share you details with the people you want to attend your call. To join, most platforms will require you to enter a PIN (not your credit card one, don’t worry) to get on the call. This will be a four-digit number that adds a layer of security.

You’ll also want to understand in-conference controls. You’ll realise that there will be points in the meeting where you or others will need to mute themselves. Background noise is a real concentration killer. There’s nothing to fear though, the controls aren’t rocket science and will usually require you to input a simple command. They’re also useful if you want to find out who’s on the call with you, want to record your meeting or just want to lock it so no pesky latecomers can join. If you must, join the call a few minutes before everyone else just so you’re comfortable with how everything works.

Craft a clear agenda

So, how do you craft a brilliant agenda?

Why are we here?

Let’s not get into the meaning of life just now. But what about the purpose of your call? According to the Harvard Business Review, there are three reasons for meetings (and calls) to happen:

  • To share information
  • To seek input
  • To make decisions

When you know how to create a call agenda, you know that what you’ll get from your call will be informative, will involve others, and will lead you to a result.

To make sure you start as you mean your conference to go on, your agenda will have three key components in addition to the topics for discussion. First, it will include the dial-in details (phone number, passcodes etc.) so they’re handy for participants.

Second, it will include the name, title and department or company of everyone taking part. When you’re not seeing each other in person, this helps to make everyone more comfortable on a call.

And third, it will include a timeline for the meeting, broken down by topic. Otherwise, there’s a danger your conference could drag on longer than it needs to, longer than is productive, and longer than participants have to spare.

Why agendas matter

An agenda does more than one job – and not all of them are the ones you might think of.

Obviously, when you create a call agenda, your main aim is to provide a framework for your call. But it does something else even before the call starts. It helps to get buy-in from the people who’ll be on the call. If you’ve included their topic, or assigned a topic to their name, they are more likely to come prepared.

An agenda also sets out expectations. It shows this isn’t “just another phone call” but an audio conference. It implies you expect participants to be prepared, be engaged, and be productive.

Get your agenda wrong and people might zone out of your conference before they’ve even dialled in. Get it right, and you’ll get the information, input and decisions you’re looking for – and all in double-quick time.

So even before the call, make sure you give all invitees a chance to have input. Ask around for topics they would like to see on the agenda. Then assign each topic on the agenda to a named person. This gives them a heads-up that they need to come prepared, and means someone will guide the topic so it doesn’t deteriorate into a general – and generally fruitless – discussion.

How you phrase the topics on the agenda will also make a difference to how well your conference call goes. Make each topic a question instead of a statement and you encourage people to come up with answers. And it’s answers you want your conference to produce. So, for example, instead of: “Sales projections for 2021”your topic could be: “How do we beat our 2020 sales?”

The ideal agenda

Created with input from invitees; circulated in advance; topics allocated to named participants; topics phrased as questions. You can download an example of the ideal call agenda here. But there’s something else which is important.

Flexibility.

Between circulating your agenda and the call itself, things might change: from something as small as – say – a product price increase to something as major as winning a big chunk of new business. If you don’t allow time (probably at the start of the conference) to at least mention these developments, they may distract people, drive agenda items off-topic, or even be overlooked when in fact they need to be considered.

To balance a timed schedule against flexibility, you could even make “Agenda revisions” your first topic on every agenda.

Lastly, remember to build in time at the other end of the agenda for feedback. Not on the topics covered, but on the conference itself. What worked well, what went wrong, what you could do next time to make it work better.

It’s far better to hear comments and criticism directly than second-hand. And that counts double for praise for your perfect conference call agenda.

Essential people only

This refers to the people you invite to your call. The more people involved, the more potential that your call will be a frenzy where everyone is fighting to get their point across. Ever had a few hundred people on one call? It’s not pretty. It’s common sense but only invite people who will be able to provide valuable input. The conference call will be much more manageable and much more productive.

That’s all there is to it

Not a very long list but that’s all you need to do to prepare for a conference call. Understand the tech, set out clear objectives and invite the right people.

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