How To Begin a Conference Call

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This week, I was so excited to participate in a conference call lead by someone whose ideas I greatly admire.  Unfortunately, I hung up after only 7 minutes because of the negative first impression the presenter created.  How can you successfully begin a conference call?

We all know that conference calls are awkward at first.  Just like telephone interviews, it’s very difficult to communicate in only words to a person or a group of people you’ve never met before.  This leads to the most important way to begin a conference call: be gracious and kind to others.  I grew up in the South, so good manners are an intrinsic part of my life.  However, you don’t have to be a Southern belle to lead a group of people successfully.  There are two simple ways you can show your audience you are a thoughtful host: 1) focus on your audience’s needs in your introduction; and 2) be positive toward the first audience volunteer who speaks.

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Say “thank you,” and focus on your audience, not yourself, at the beginning of the call.  On a conference call where audience members voluntarily participate, thank them.  Make them feel welcome by genuinely showing your appreciation for their attendance.  Ask each attendee to say his or her name and location.  Start with an icebreaker.  Whatever you do, your job as host presenter is to make people feel comfortable and positive.  The conference call I participated in this afternoon made the audience feel ill at ease.  Before we began, the presenter actually shot down one audience member’s innocent question and made her feel defensive and defeated.  I felt sorry for her.  It was hard to listen to and immediately put me off.  I already knew I was most certainly not going to speak up during the conference call after hearing how poorly someone else was treated… This decision was made after only 0:45!

Be nice to your audience members throughout the call, but especially in the beginning.  You may feel like a bigshot, but if you don’t treat people with respect and kindness, you won’t be a bigshot for very long.  Mocking audience members and making them feel stupid is never a good idea.  Today, I gave this particular presenter the benefit of the doubt, but the call began with a long, self-absorbed rant that was more confusing than anything else.  After the rant was finished, one audience member offered her wonderful opinion and insight.  Instead of talking about the positive ideas this audience member contributed, the presenter attacked the idea and quickly dismissed it as he launched into a story about himself.  I actually found that the audience member had great things to say, and I would have liked to contribute in more discussion of her ideas, but the presenter abruptly changed the topic.  The first person to speak in a conference call should be praised… even if his or her idea is completely insane.  If the presenter mocks or dismisses the first idea thrown out into the call, other audience members are not going to participate.  Recognize the first speaker for his or her contributions!  It takes courage to be the first to speak.

As soon as I heard the presenter dismiss the second audience member, I hung up.  It took 7 minutes for me to formulate my first impression of the presenter.  In my mind, this person is rude, arrogant, and inconsiderate of others.  I will definitely not be recommending his work on my blog or to my students.  Though he has great things to say, his conference call behavior completely changed my opinion of him.  I’m sorry I attended.

What are your tips for beginning a successful, interactive conference call?

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