I frequently get asked about how to make audio conferences, conference calls, webinars, and the like more interesting. Apparently, a lot of people spend a lot of time on the phone, with a computer as distraction in the background. The question is how can you make this form of organizational communication fun and successful? Thanks to Patrick Hart from Ottawa for most recently posing the question and inspiring this blog.
The first thing to note is that the people on the other end of the phone are getting less information than they would if you were all together in person. That makes the format inherently less interesting than an in-person meeting. So it’s an uphill battle to keep people’s attention, check whether or not they’re still listening, and generally keep in touch.
That said, here are some ways to keep everyone’s pulse racing.
1. Stand up and smile when you talk. Standing up gives you more energy, and smiling warms up your vocal tone. When you sit down for long periods of time, you tend not to breathe properly and you get lethargic. Fight that by standing up.
2. Make the audio conference as interactive as possible. Conversations are interesting; listening to one person drone on for hours is not. If one person is doing a lot of talking, break at least every 10 minutes to go around all the participating sites and get feedback, questions, and so on. Announce in advance that you will do this, so that people aren’t surprised.
3. Instead of a talk, make it an interview. If you’ve got a speaker scheduled, then consider employing the interview format rather than just having one person talk. The give and take of an interview is inherently interesting, especially if there are differing points of view.
4. Be clear and present about the logistics, timing and duration. I’m not a big fan of agenda slides for in-person talks, but the aural equivalent is very helpful on a conference call. Announce how long you’re going to run, announce frequently where you are, how long until questions, who’s talking, who’s on the phone, and so on. All of that helps create a more intimate feel, which would happen more or less automatically when everyone’s together in the room, but doesn’t on the phone without help.
5. Use emotion-laden words when you’re trying to communicate something important. Normally, we decode the intent, emotion, and attitudes of the speaker through body language and to a lesser extent through tone of voice. On the phone, you only get tone of voice, and it’s not very good at that, because the fidelity of telephones is notoriously bad. So you have to work hard in telling people how you feel; they won’t necessarily pick it up from your body language. Use words that label your emotions so that no one is in doubt how you feel.