Prior to the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in 1984, hosting a conference call was the province of the big boys. Only large corporations routinely used teleconferencing as an alternative to live meetings. Since then, the advent of multiple service providers and competitive pricing has made conference calls a viable option for everything from a religious study class of six or seven locations to a mass meeting involving thousands of locations.
For some, this innovative means of holding meetings comes with a measure of anxiety. What type of preparation should be done in advance? What information about the technology should be conveyed to those who will attend the meeting? How does one reserve a conference call with a service provider?
The most important thing to remember is that a meeting held by teleconference is still just a meeting. The only difference is that not everyone is gathered into one conference room. What this means for the host of the conference is that all the usual preparation that goes into a “live” meeting will also go into preparing for the conference call.
First, address your agenda. What is the subject matter for the meeting? What aspects of the subject matter are to be addressed individually? Will there be time set aside for questions? How about discussion? Will there be time for the attendees to comment or critique the content of the meeting? What action items are to be completed or at least assigned by the end of the meeting?
With your agenda firmly in hand, the next step is to prepare any documents your attendees need before or during the meeting. As you normally would with a live meetings, make sure the documents are prepared, proofed, corrected if necessary and ready for distribution in a timely manner.
Next, determine the date and time of your meeting. If your attendees are located in several parts of the country or the world, be sure to take the varying time zones into account. As an example, right after lunch may be fine for New York City, but Chicago is just leaving for lunch and the London office has ended their day. As much as possible, be respectful of other’s schedules.
After determining the date and time of your conference, consider the type of conference call you need. Are there high-powered people who rely heavily on their administrative assistants to usher them from meeting to meeting? Having the operator dial out to everyone may be the best fit. Will some persons be out of their office? Obtain a toll free number and pass code that every one can use to connect to the meeting. Will the meeting itself be somewhat formal, or will the nature of the conference require an operator to conduct a question and answer session? Will a recording or transcript be required? Consult your teleconference service provider regarding what you need for the conference. Most services have specialty teams who will be happy to help you select the right format for your meeting.
Once the logistics of your meeting are settled, schedule the conference call with your service provider. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the larger your list of attendees or the complexity of your call, the more in advance you should book the conference. Most conference call providers require little advance notice for a ten or twenty party conference call. When it comes to conference calls of two or three hundred, however, traditionally you will be asked to provide at least forty-eight hours notice. Keep in mind this is also to your advantage, in that the more advance notice you provide your attendees, the easier it will be for them to arrange their schedules.
One note for persons who will be hosting conference calls on a recurring basis. Many service providers now provide a permanent toll free number and pass code service that can be used at will, without actually booking a conference call. Check with your service provider for details and pricing that you can compare with the rates you currently pay for a scheduled conference call.
Once you have the conference reserved, notify your attendees of the date and time. If appropriate, also include a time zone reference so that everyone can convert the meeting time into a local increment. Be sure to include precise information on how the attendee will get into the meeting. As an example, if everyone will be dialing into the meeting, be sure to provide each attendee with the dial-in number and the pass code. If there are other pieces of information your service provider recommends giving to your attendees, include them.
Forward any prepared documents to your attendees, making sure to allow time for the document to arrive, and for the attendees to confirm receipt of the materials. Nothing slows down a meeting like finding out several people do not have what they need to effectively participate in the discussion.
Remember, planning to host a conference call is just like preparing to host an actual meeting. With your agenda set, your call booked, and your attendees notified and provided with any pertinent materials, you are ready to hold a successful business session.