Seven ways to get more from your teleconferences

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —January 31, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

Your teleconference system is one of your most important KM technologies.

Here are 7 things a facilitator can do to improve teleconference experience.

  1. Encourage everyone to be on time . Unlike f2f meetings where people can sneek in and catch up, arriving late at a teleconference meeting seems to be doubly disruptive.
  2. Introduce everyone. When you walk into a room you can do a quick scan of who’s there. That’s not so easy on a teleconference so ask each person to announce themselves on arrival (some systems automatically provide announcements) and when everyone is ready to start do a quick whip around of names starting from the person closest to Greenwich then move west. OK, you don’t need to do the Greenwich thing but it’s quite fun in a global group getting people to work out their longitude.
  3. Remind everyone of who’s speaking. When you have a dozen or more disembodied voices on the line it can be hard to work out who’s talking. Get people into the habit of prefacing what they say with their name, for example, “Shawn here, to get our community of practice going …”
  4. Reduce background noise. The more people you add to a teleconference the more likely someone will have a noisy background, noisy typing as they take notes or some other annoyance for the rest of the participants. Point out the mute functionality of the system or the handset they are using and asked people to turn off any other device that might interfere with the call (such as mobile phones).
  5. Rotate start times to be fair to all timezones. If you plan a regular get together on the phone and your participants are scattered around the world, don’t leave one geography to do the graveyard shift.
  6. Use IM or a chat room to increase richness. This is probably the most important suggestion. Encourage everyone to join a chat room of group instant messaging (such as Skype) and as the call proceeds urge everyone to jot down what they are hearing, share urls, and create an artefact of the meeting. You can use it to jog your memory latter and during the call see what people are getting from the session. I was introduced to this approach by my colleagues at CPSquare and John Smith and I have written a practice note on how to do it.
  7. Record the call. For those who can’t make the meeting simply record the call and share the audio file.

There are a range of other practices you might want to include such as employing additional technology to share screens (I was part of a fascinating teleconference today where one participant shared his screen and showed us how to design sheet metal components using engineering drafting software), share presentations, online voting, whiteboards. You might also want to practice ensuring everyone can be heard especially when there are a group of people in a room sharing a teleconference phone.

So I would love to hear the tips and tricks you’ve seen work. I’m sure we are going to see and be part of many more teleconferences.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Some good tips there – though my top tip on teleconferences is to avoid them at all costs.
    But if you have to do them, these guidelines make a lot of sense.
    The one about background noise is spot on – I find it quite maddening when the quality of the call is reduced to almost nil by one person’s choice of venue or inability to operate a mute switch.
    Also agree about using a chat channel.
    In my limited experience, Skype voice is way more satisfactory than a standard teleconference, though I’ve not tried it for a large number of participants.

  2. I have the opposite experience with Skype. After you add a handful of people the quality drops off dramatically. Mind you I have recently discovered that Skype doesn’t seem to handle wireless connections that well which might have been my problem. Thanks for the comment Johnnie. Hope all is well in your part of the world.

  3. Bev Trayner says:

    I think it’s important to include some basic orientations for first-timers, such as:
    1. It can be a scary experience.
    2. The silence when you say something is a sign of respect, not being ignored. Grunts of agreement clutter the conversation and waste time.
    3. If you arrive late, then sit quietly at the back. Apologising for late arrival in the middle of someone talking is a no-no.
    And, for the facilitator:
    1. Tell people at the beginning of the call that it’s going to be recorded.
    2. Make brief summaries of the conversation as you move between points during the call.
    3. Conclude call with a brief summary, to-do’s and next steps.
    4. Have a backchannel chat open with a colleague/co-mentor who can give you real-time tips on what you are missing in the phone conference and on where you’re doing well.
    5. Keep to the time set for the phone conference. Although some people might be talking away, others might have further arrangements.
    6. Finish with a positive observation of what happened during the call – related to content or process.
    Still thinking of more ….

Comments are closed.