How to run effective teleconferences: 6 tips

Find out why goals, data, and meeting size are key factors in productive video conferencing calls.

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Earlier I covered how to set up teleconferences for success. Today, I'll discuss what to do in the meeting and how meeting formats are changing as people are adapting to an all-telecommute-capable workforce.

Have goals

Once your meeting starts, try to see agreement on the goal and what you are trying to accomplish. Without a goal, you may be stuck in "weekly team meetings" that take your time from the real work. With a goal, you have a chance at ending the meeting early. Also, you've taken the driver's seat instead of staying in passenger mode. People will notice this and start responding to you instead of expecting you to follow. This allows you to drive the meeting to accomplish your goals.

One way to do that is to bring data.

SEE: How to work from home: IT pro's guidebook to telecommuting and remote work (TechRepublic Premium)

Bring data

W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru, once said, "Without data, you're just another person with an opinion." This is especially important when telecommuting. If you can share your screen and show a spreadsheet--or better yet, a chart--you've not only taken charge, but you can drive the entire conversation. Modern tools like Jira, Onbase, and Zendesk, along with databases like Oracle, make pulling information incredibly easy. If you can't fit it in a spreadsheet, you may still be able to come up with, say, a list of issues sorted by age. Consider the impact of complaining that you are waiting on Ops to deploy systems on a telecall versus actually bringing up a list of issues, where the top ones are 60, 70, or 80 days old.

Let's talk about meeting size and structure.

Consider meeting size

It was Michael Peachey, vice president of User Experience at RingCentral, who first pointed out that as virtual meeting size goes up, the sense of commitment and responsibility goes down. Once there are a half-dozen people, it becomes acceptable to "tune out." That's a natural progression. Put yourself on mute, bring up another area of work, and work on that. Peachey suggests smaller meetings. If you must have a large meeting, he suggests greeting each person as they come in to give them a sense of engagement.

Look them in the eye

My conversation with Michael Peachey was, of course, a web video and voice meeting. I was taking notes on my second monitor, while my laptop was the first. This meant I was constantly looking away. He noticed this very quickly, and suggested I move any application I was using to be centered right under the web camera.

The result is startling. You look as if you are looking the other person in the eye. This simple change will get them to have more confidence in you. Likewise, while I was frantically taking notes and also paying attention, looking away gave the impression I was disinterested.

Give them something to do

The typical adult has a 10- to 12-minute attention span. If the "meeting" is to listen to other people talk, that "tune out" problem is guaranteed around minute 15. Peachey suggests pausing after a few minutes and giving the audience a chance to respond. This is where you can ask a question like, "Does that make sense?" or "What do you think of that?" Just be prepared for an answer. Those questions can also drive commitments, deliverables, and decisions.

Once you get off the phone, the problem may be getting those commitments to happen.

Take notes and follow up

If you've never ended a meeting with a sense of "what did we just spend a half-hour on?" then you are either very junior or more fortunate than most. In cyberspace, it is more likely that things are decided but not written down or acted on. During the meeting, take notes (but keep your word processor next to the webcam!) of decisions, deliverables, and deadlines, then blast those out to the participants. Peachey is quick to point out that tools that can offer a seamless transition between email, text, audio, and video will lead to a higher success rate.

Should the meeting end with no decisions, deliverables, or deadlines, consider if it is really needed. This applies to virtual "stand up" meetings, which should be accelerating performance. If they aren't, they might just be a drag on performance. That could be because people are solving problems outside of meetings, using other tools like Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms.

If meetings aren't solving a problem, tweak or kill them, and use the time to get back to work. 

Because when online work becomes more effective than the physical office, we get to do a lot more of it. That's better for our coworkers, our family, our pets, and the environment.

Also see

Professionals Greeting Through Conference Call

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Matthew Heusser

Matt Heusser launched his company, Excelon Development, in 2011, after spending a decade in programming, testing, and project management. A former member of the board of directors of the association for software testing, Matt is a recipient of the Mo...