By Chloe Brittain
Web conferencing technology is a powerful tool for connecting team members in different time zones and making remote collaboration possible. The drawback is that – compared to a traditional face-to-face setting – online conference calls can make it easier for attendees to disengage, whether they're checking email, texting, or simply zoning out on the call.
When participants pay attention, online meetings are more productive and team members come out equipped to respond to any goals that were discussed.
Here are nine best practices for boosting engagement on your next online conference call.
1. Consider using video.
While it may not be ideal for all meetings, video conferencing offers several advantages over other modes of communication when it comes to engagement. With audio-only conferencing, participants may feel "invisible" and therefore take a passive role. Video conferencing, on the other hand, keeps attendees accountable to each other and encourages active participation.
Additionally, nonverbal cues like facial expressions and gestures help to enhance communication and build rapport, which is especially important for remote collaboration.
2. Limit the number of people on an online conference call.
Fewer people on a call means less confusion and more opportunity for individual participants to contribute to the discussion. Limit your invitees to key team members, and let them update their associates on the meeting content afterward.
Chances are, it's not necessary for everyone to be present for the entire call. Let attendees know that they're only expected to be present for the part of the meeting that's applicable to them – whether that means getting on the call at the halfway point or dropping out early.
3. Set expectations and stick to them.
Before the conference call, send out a copy of the agenda to all the invitees, as well as any materials they'll need to review to prepare for the call. Be clear about the meeting's estimated duration so your attendees can plan their schedules accordingly. This will prevent participants from getting restless during the call.
On the day of the meeting, do your best to stick to the projected timeframe. If you expect the discussion to go overtime, give people the option to drop out at the scheduled time. If your attendees believe you respect their time, they'll feel better about giving it.
4. Establish ground rules for the meeting.
To minimize distractions during the conference call, brief attendees on meeting etiquette up front. Suggested rules include:
- Let coworkers and others know ahead of time that you'll be in a meeting
- Close any open browser tabs (especially email)
- Put your phone out of reach if you're connecting from a laptop
While switching off your phone during a meeting strikes many people as common sense, for others, a gentle reminder goes a long way.
5. Assign roles to participants.
Keep people busy, and they'll have no time to daydream or multitask. Roles and responsibilities keep attendees focused on the task at hand and result in a more productive conference call.
Example roles include agenda planner, moderator, minute taker, and timekeeper. Consider appointing a tech support person to help participants troubleshoot any technical issues that arise.
6. Warm up with small talk.
If your participants aren't acquainted, a bit of small talk at the start of the call can set the stage for warmer dialogue throughout the rest of the meeting.
You can also infuse humor throughout the presentation using meeting emojis, funny images or slides. This is a great way to loosen up the atmosphere in preparation for discussion.
7. Stay on topic.
Briefly summarize the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and stick to it. All facilitators should have a copy of the meeting agenda to keep the discussion flowing linearly.
If participants bring up questions that threaten to steer things off course, thank them, make note, and tell them you'll be happy to discuss it after the conference call.
8. Break up the monotony.
Talking at your attendees for an hour is certain to bore them into a stupor. Keep attendees actively participating by engaging them at regular checkpoints throughout the meeting, such as five-minute Q&A sessions or polls.
Remember, 65% of the population are visual learners. Capture and retain participants' attention with the use of visuals such as slides, graphs, charts, whiteboards, screen sharing, and text.
9. Ask direct questions.
Don't forget to ask individual attendees for their input. Try to get away from simple "yes" or "no" answers, and ask questions that require some thought. For example:
- [Name], do you have any ideas for the new program?
- How could we make this policy better?
- What has been your greatest challenge with this project?
The goal is not to put people on the spot – rather, it's to get a dialogue going and make participants feel like their input is valued. It also sets a standard for the meeting by letting attendees know that you expect them to stay alert and contribute to the discussion. If someone struggles with public speaking, opt for a service with chat functionality like FreeConferenceCall.com.
If your participants aren't engaged, then meetings are a wasted effort. By applying these engagement techniques, you can get more mileage out of your online conference calls while making them a more enjoyable experience for everyone. For more tips for virtual conferencing, download this free resource for virtual meeting best practices.
Chloe Brittain is a freelance writer and the owner of Opal Transcription Services, a North America-based transcription company providing conference call transcription services to companies in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Connect with Chloe on LinkedIn and Twitter (@opaltranscripts).