Posts Tagged conference calls

Brain dump: Lessons learned co-hosting a biweekly call for 3 years

Posted by on Monday, 23 January, 2012

meeting_DanDeChiaro After 3 years of running a large bi-weekly conference call, I hosted my last Knowledge Champion Consortium session. As I was working on an email to my cohort, to give her some of the best practices I’ve learned and implemented, I realized this was more of a blog post than a single email… so I blogged about it over on the Notes from Rational Support blog and have replicated the content here as well to stand as a long lasting resource:


Last Thursday I hosted my last Knowledge Champion Consortium session, an internal group of passionate individuals focused on knowledge sharing and content curation. I’ve grown quite a bit since I started co-leading this call, and am a better leader for the experience and lessons the group has taught me, not to mention the side benefit of listening in to all the great information which has been shared out through this group of passionate knowledge leaders. Truly, I feel like I’ve benefited more from the KCC than anyone else!

Of course, after 3 years of running this 20-40 person bi-weekly conference call, I can’t help but to have learned a few things about what I believe makes conference calls work, and what helps them fail. Make no mistake, most of these I learned the hard way: through trial and error, by failing on my own before figuring out my mistakes.


The biggest tip & trick I can provide is this:

Prepare: Give yourself 5 or 10 minutes before hand to get the meeting logistics set up and relax for a moment. Taking a few moments before everyone dials in will allow you to move past most technical or logistic issues and allow you to host a smooth sailing session for your attendees. Take this time to upload your slide deck (Lotus Live Meetings has a great feature allowing you to share your deck without sharing your screen, and yes we do use our own products in-house!), get the web-session dialed in, and any other necessary logistics squared away (like clarifying staging cues with co-hosts for switching off presenter control etc.). A little preparation now will go a long ways in making the call run as well as possible. I can’t stress enough how much benefit as little as five minutes of prep time immediately before the call will impact the next sixty minutes.

Second to the above is… take steps to prevent unintentional disruptions. There’s two ways to do this: Mute all and turn off chime in/out notifications (you know, those dings you hear when people join or leave the call? Yep, you can turn them off in most conference call systems). Most interruptions which cause breaks in the flow of the calls come from late dial-ins and attendees forgetting to mute their lines. All conference call systems provide the tools to prevent these interruptions, we just need to remember to use them. Some small preventative measures like this will have huge returns on the investment during the presentations.

To help exemplify what I am talking about here, my own honed and tested process goes a bit something like this:

  1. Between 5 and 15 minutes before the call, I’ll launch my Lotus Live session and dial-in to the line.
  2. Once logged in to Lotus Live, I set the check box to email me a list of attendees, then I start the web-session in host mode.
  3. When the session has started, I publish my slide deck to the session (this allows me to present the slides in host mode without having to share my desktop, a secondary benefit is a smaller file size of the recording). Publishing now also means that there will be content shared in the session when people begin joining and as you continue setting everything up.
  4. After the deck is published, I’ll then jump into the recording settings and dial the session into the conference call line to bridge the audio into the recording.
  5. When the session is connected to the conference call, I leave my mouse cursor on this screen and wait to start the recording, which allows me to talk and not focus on getting back to start the recording when I begin the call. This helps me to fill the gaps of silence while people join in, which in turn helps to alleviate any confusion about the call and also begins to build the cadence and rhythm moving forward.
  6. At this point I’ve kept the conference call line open and notifications enabled so I can hear everyone and get a sense of how many people have joined the call.
  7. Once we’ve got a quorum, and its about 3 or 4 after the hour, I’ll mute all lines, turn off chime in/out notifications, hit record and dig into the introduction and agenda…
  8. From here on out any accidental interruptions should be wholly mitigated to “intentional” interruptions.
  9. During the call be a good ‘radio host’, by which I mean, maintain the rhythm and don’t allow for too much dead air space. Obviously you want to allow time for attendees to speak up and ask questions, but be smart about when you break cadence to do this.
  1. Keep an eye on the clock. Know when to help move things along or get back on topic, and know when you’re coming up on the end of the call to wrap things up in a timely fashion.


Some last words of found “wisdom” from my experiences hosting these calls…

If you can swing it, find a co-host… or at least someone to handle chat questions and other logistics while you are presenting. Knowing you can rely on someone who has your back is a god-send. Perhaps you can multi-task better than I can, and if so, go forth without a co-host. I know I’m not that good and am ever grateful for my colleague Beth McCawley’s co-leadership, as well as Kelly Smith for filling in for Beth and providing the support needed to run the calls effectively and build out great content behind the scenes. I can assure you that any call I host in the future (with 10+ attendees) will have one other person helping me out.

And almost as important as everything above: don’t sweat the small screw ups or interruptions. They happen, but don’t let them distract you or cause more breaks in the flow of the meeting. The idea in all of this isn’t to be perfect, but rather to hold an enjoyable and effective meeting. Stuff will happen to cause problems, but the key is to take those initial steps to mitigate the problems when they do arise or prevent them all together if possible. Doing so will help make a better meeting for all involved.

I hope you find the lessons I’ve learned and shown above helpful. Have you learned lessons for leading good conference calls as well? Why not share them in the comments and help me learn even more (as I am sure the KCC isn’t the last call I’m ever going to host)!


image credit: (cc) Some rights reserved by DanDeChiaro



The above was originally published in Notes from Rational Support blog on Jan 23rd, 2012: 

I’d be honoured if you’d take a moment and check it out… then let me know what you find works best on the calls you host or attend (if you’ve attended any I led, I’d especially love your feedback!). As I noted in the post, I’m likely not done hosting calls in my career with IBM and I’d love to be able to learn and grow even more through your tips and tricks picked up over the years!


(and yes, that IS a vintage 1960’s operator’s headset reworked with wireless Plantronics innards.)

Reducing meetings and influencing people…

Posted by on Friday, 21 October, 2011

  … to do the same.

Last March I published this blog post over on the NFRS blog I contribute to for work. Today I am going to reprise that same content here in an effort to raise awareness via new venues, and in grandiose yet dire hopes of helping shift corporate culture towards respect for people’s time and efforts.

I’ve tried  leading by example, running my own meetings in the same fashion as I’ve outlined below (sometimes failing to abide 100%, but still, improving each time). Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be catching on; likely because the meetings I host are for audiences who don’t typically host meetings of their own. So while I may be a good example, I don’t think I’m reaching the right audiences. Perhaps blogging and sharing via social sites will help me improve that reach and perhaps, just perhaps effect some change in how we schedule and run meetings for the benefit of all.


 Ineffectual meetings. Meetings that take longer than they should. Meetings that don’t start on time. Meetings that go over the allotted time. Too many meetings. Meetings that consistently sound like this five-minute video… “The Conference Call” by David Grady.


  1. Don’t go. No, really… hear me out on this. If meetings are ineffectual, then no one will look at you poorly for bowing out. I can assure you, if you think the meeting is ineffectual, your colleagues likely do too. Now, I don’t mean “just don’t go” (this isn’t “Office Space” after all), I mean respectfully decline the invitation noting your inability to attend and make yourself available to the host to discuss why. Don’t make excuses, be clear about why you’ve declined, but choose the right setting for that discussion; a meeting invite decline with comments is not the right venue.
  2. Speak up and help drive the meeting focus. Don’t let the meeting get bogged down in the minutiae of “solutioning” when discussing a high level problem. Only solution issues when that is the specific purpose of gathering together. If you sense that the meeting is taking a turn for the worse, speak up and refocus the group. If you’re becoming annoyed with the spiraling, more than likely the other people on the call are as well.
  3. Having too many meetings on your calendar will likely take care of itself if you effectively implement the first two suggestions… divesting yourself from the ineffectual meetings, and more effectively participating in the ones you do attend will magically see your time slots open up to a point where you can easily and effectively manage your meeting AND work time. Imagine that!
  4. Only call meetings when it is critical to have all individuals present, or when a quick solution is critical to success. Don’t call meetings to ‘keep people informed’. Share results, but demand participation from the attendees in the form of calls to action or direct unfettered discussion.

But what about those meetings you HAVE to attend just in case something comes up, or to stay informed about developments and progress on projects or programs? Easy. That is what wikis, discussion forums, blogs, and RSS feeds are for; staying informed when it matters!

Collaboration does not mean scheduling a one hour meeting. Collaboration can be done at any time of the day, regardless of your colleagues’ availability. Using internal wikis, blogs, and discussion forums, you can not only collaborate more effectively and have written record of your progress, but you can do so across time zones and geographic boundaries. Using RSS feeds, you can keep an eye on any updates from a single location across communities and functional groups.

(Ooooooh, here comes the work plug! In the interest of transparency, yes, I work for IBM, and yes IBM owns Lotus. That said, I honestly do think the tooling I am about to discuss is effective and worthwhile, and I don’t say that about much!)

Using Lotus Connections, you can build communities to support collaboration and reduce the number of “essential” meetings you attend. Because Lotus Connections has wiki, blogging, discussion, bookmarks, file storage, and many other capabilities, the online collaboration can take place at your discretion. Priority management can now be more effectively accomplished as you no longer need to balance those silly meetings with getting actual work done. And because Connections is built with RSS features, you can set up your feeds in the tool of your choice to stay up to date with all the items YOU care about and participate on your own terms.

While I use Lotus Connections for a wealth of reasons in IBM, I find the most beneficial part of it all is the RSS capabilities. The RSS feeds I watch for the various communities I participate in allow me to quickly glance at updates and determine if the information is something I need to focus on now, if it can wait, or if I need to pay attention to it at all. Information triage, as it were, in milliseconds. This has truly been the single most effective tool to combat information overload I have used to date.

So, now that you’ve divested your self from those ineffectual meetings… are driving the meetings you do attend with a new vigor and granular focus based on specific agenda items posted to your wiki (and updated later with details of the discussions)… and are globally collaborating with colleagues across time zones, what more can you do to reduce meetings and influence people? The answer: Work on your meeting etiquette.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way…  and I’ll say right up front, I have broken every single one of these at one time or another, so don’t think I am throwing stones in a glass house here:

  1. Mute. Use it.  As a participant, use it immediately after you dial in (*6 on our system). Stay on mute unless you are speaking. When you’re done speaking, go back on mute. As a host, use “mute all” (*78 on our system) and use it often. There really is nothing worse than a great meeting being derailed or sidetracked by an accidental un-muted interruption.
  2. For larger meetings/conference calls, turn off the dial-in beep notifications (*33 on our system) when callers join or hang up. These beeps are the downfall of almost every conference call. A late party will invariably interrupt the speaker (who likely has already started late waiting for people to join) resulting in a five to ten minute loss of productivity over the start of the meeting.
  3. Get to the meeting on time. Seriously. Showing up late is disrespectful to everyone else on the call who arrived on time. When you show up late, you’ve wasted their time. Once or twice are forgivable, but when it happens consistently, those three or four minutes start adding up quickly. Imagine if everyone showed up on time, a meeting could start when scheduled, and END when scheduled, or gasp, maybe even early! Show respect for everyone else, show up on time.
  4. Know your audience. When speaking, whether hosting a call or just talking during someone else’s meeting, know when it is ok to joke around and when you need to stay focused on the task/topic at hand. There is a fine line between joking around but staying professional (call it casual professionalism) and wasting time joking when there are better things to discuss. Don’t make a long meeting longer by joking around. Laugh, and move on; we all have better places to be and better things we could be doing.
  5. Don’t multi-task. Actually this could have gone above as well as an indicator of an inefficient meeting: are you multitasking during it? Then you can probably divest yourself from it. If a meeting doesn’t require your full attention, it is a meeting you shouldn’t be attending. Conversely, any meeting you attend should be given your full attention, and by virtue, your participation as well.

But don’t take my word for it all… check out “The 22 minute meeting” a six-minute iGNiTe video presentation by Nicole Steinbok. Here’s the link to the instructional poster too. Nicole makes some stellar points via some very amusing fashions.

I truly hope this has given you some good tips, tricks, or tools to use to make your day-to-day job more effective and efficient. If for nothing else, I hope it gave you pause to think about what you can do as an individual to help make sure your meetings are run as crisp and concisely as possible, with few distractions, clear goals, and shorter run times.

After all, if you can make a small difference, imagine what we can accomplish if we ALL make those small differences….


image credit: (cc) flickr user Ha-Wee