We’ve all been part of a teleconference, with some people in the room and others on the phone. Dialing in, it can be difficult to hear, or follow the proceedings, or make ourselves heard. In the room, it can be frustrating when those on the phone fall behind, speak over top of one another, or don’t speak at all! As project management professionals are all aware, communications is one of the major areas in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), and has been described by many to be the most critical success factor for program execution.
Teleconferencing is a common format for team meetings with today’s geographically dispersed teams and nod to work-life balance. Program managers and team leaders who depend on teleconferences to manage projects will find that in addition to the challenges of conducting productive face-to-face meetings, in teleconferences they lack the key non-verbal aspects of communication, which presents additional challenges. Albert Mehrabian and colleagues at UCLA have shown that communication involves a complex set of non-verbal and verbal cues such as “body positions and movements, facial expressions, voice quality and intonation during speech, volume and speed of speech.” Without seeing non-verbals, it is easier to misunderstand the words, meaning and importance of what it said.
How have you been conducting your meetings? The following guidelines will assist program managers and team leaders to conduct outstanding teleconferences that capitalize on the verbals to ensure clear communication and a productive meeting.
- Develop an agenda and follow it during the call. You would probably be surprised how often this basic step is skipped, but an agenda helps keep meetings on track and efficient.
- Identify a facilitator to run the call and check for understanding throughout. Provide an email address for participants to ask questions or provide feedback regarding the teleconference logistics.
- Send out the agenda and supplemental meeting materials well in advance of the call so that participants have time to review the information and be prepared for constructive discussion.
- Use a web-based collaboration tool to send out the meeting materials and for participants to submit questions and answers or post references and links that will be useful to the group before, during or after the teleconference; for example use an Office 365 Group or SharePoint collaboration site.
- Start the call on time so as to be respectful of participants’ time.
- Review the ground rules of teleconferences by asking the participants to:
- Use mute to keep the noise down but not to use the hold feature.
- Say their name before making a comment so that everyone knows who is speaking.
- Speak one at a time so that all comments can be heard.
- Verbalize their agreement or disagreement with comments in a constructive manner as facial expressions and gestures are missing so discussions can be hampered by participants not chiming in.
- Have participants introduce themselves at the start of the call by saying their name, what part of the project being discussed they support and where they are located – city and state.
- Identify a note taker to keep track of the discussion, making meeting summaries or minutes easier to prepare.
- Encourage participation by directing questions to specific participants by name and going through the list of participants when soliciting comments.
- End the call on time by summarizing the discussion, any action items, thank everyone for participating, and tell them to hang up.
Many of these guidelines are often forgotten in the process, even though they should be a standard approach to meetings. While not exhaustive, they provide a framework for conducting a productive teleconference. You may have experience with additional guidelines, please share them in the comments section below.