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

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.)

2 thoughts on “Brain dump: Lessons learned co-hosting a biweekly call for 3 years

  1. Well, then go to your local antiques shops and get one! 😉 From what I can tell, they’re not all that rare yet. And from what you’ve told me of Ken, it is a perfect retro-fit project for him to tackle!

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