Five steps to a Successful Conference Call

Conference calls can be an extremely useful tool, or an annoying waste of time, depending on how they are run. There are some simple steps that can be taken that will allow for a successful, productive conference call.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Before the conference call happens, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure it goes smoothly, that the topics that need to be discussed are discussed, that everyone has access to the same supporting documentation or informational materials, and that all the issues that need to be resolved are resolved by the end of the call. You will need to choose your participants, making sure to include all those who need to be included, with no unnecessary participants. You will need to create an agenda, so that everyone is aware of the topics that will be discussed and can prepare accordingly. The agenda should be sent out in advance with an information sheet that details how to prepare your surroundings for the call, how to log on to the conference call, and clear guidelines for communication, so that people understand when and how it is appropriate for them to speak and when they should not.
2. Be punctual. Each participant should be fully prepared and in their office, with all relevant informational materials and paperwork that they may need ready on their desks at least five minutes before the appointed time of the call. A notepad and pen should be ready, so that the other call participants are not forced to listen to them dig through desk drawers halfway through the call. The agenda should be in front of them, with the instruction sheet.
3. Eliminate background noise by closing office doors and making it clear to staff and/or visitors that you are not to be disturbed. This can be accomplished by putting a sign on your office door, locking the door, or by any other means deemed effective. Eliminate the possibility of another phone ringing while you are on the call, and do not use speakerphone or a cellphone on the call, as this can create buzzing or static on the line and make the call difficult for others to hear.
4. When you are on the conference call, pay attention only to the call. Do not try to do other work, or multi-task in any way. Not only is this behavior rude, but if you allow yourself to get distracted, you can not only miss important information in the conference call, you can inadvertently miss your own turn to speak. It is imperative that each participant pay close attention to the progression of the meeting in order to play their proper role in that meeting. Stick closely to the agenda, and do not stray off into other conversational territory, since this can make the conference call inordinately long, and take the whole group off topic as well.
5. While you are listening to others speak it is acceptable to use the mute button on your phone, in order to avoid transmitting unnecessary noise into the call. When it is your turn to speak, you can unmute the call and say what you need to say. Remember to introduce yourself at the beginning of your part of the conversation, so that everyone is aware of who you are and what role you play in the subject that is being discussed. Write down any questions that occur to you during the meeting so that you do not forget to ask them during the Q&A at the end of the call. If there is no Q&A at the end of the call, those questions can then be emailed to the proper participants for answers. Remember that side conversations are not permitted in conference calls, due to the fact that it prevents other participants from hearing the designated speaker. Too many voices all talking at once will accomplish exactly nothing.
If all participants are conscientious about following these rules during your conference call, you will have a much better chance of accomplishing the goals that you set out to accomplish when planning the conference call in the first place. Unfortunately, there always seems to be one person who is chronically unprepared, one who is always late, and that annoying one who cannot stop interrupting others. Dealing with personal foibles will never end, but by following the steps outlined above, you will have a better chance of a successful conference call than you would otherwise. The ability to properly organize a meeting of this nature is one that will not only allow you to accomplish a lot of work easily, it will also bring you to the attention of supervisors in a good way. Successful conference calls can lead to bigger and better things.