Tips for Facilitating Conference Calls

Much of what you are doing differently to adapt to this public health crisis will take root as ongoing practices in your workplaces long after this current crisis passes. As leaders it is important to help your employees and work colleagues keep a perspective on how we have met these challenges in the past and how they have given rise to innovation and long-term lessons that helped us become more effective and prepare for future challenges.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1989 caused the US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9 office to lose its office building due to the earthquake.  The result was that hundreds of EPA employees worked from home for two years without cell phones and Skype. Work outcomes and services continued to be delivered in a timely fashion. We also instituted more online conferencing which lowered our carbon footprint through the diminished use of cars and airplanes.  Here are the best practices on how to successfully facilitate conference calls and achieve outcomes.  Some electronic meeting platforms can be tailored to provide some of these elements.

  1. Send out a meeting design template which includes the purpose statement, length of call, pre-reading, desired outcomes, decision items, and methods of decision making. These should be carefully designed to achieve your purpose and sent out prior to the conference call. Include the ground rules on your template (see suggestions below)
  2. Begin by using the start-up process.
    • Purpose
    • Process
    • Time
    • Review the ground rules and get agreement and/or suggestions.
  3. Introduce the use of the virtual clock. Suggest that everyone on the call do what you (as facilitator) are doing as well. Have a piece of paper on your desk with a clock face drawn. Number the clock as people check in. As they check in place their name next to a number. Clearly the clock will exceed 12 for large groups.
  4. Have each person on the call check-in.
    “We like to use a check-in and check-out at each of our meetings. The check-in allows each voice to be heard. Please share your name and where you work and your state of mind.” You can vary the check-in question.
    • Your name
    • Where you work
    • State of mind (for large groups have them use one word to describe their state of mind)
  5. Ask each person to say their name before they speak during the call.
  6. As the facilitator to put a check mark next to the name of each person as they speak. This will allow you to draw out people you have not heard from and monitor people who may be more dominant during the discussion.
  7. Check-out question can be… What worked? … What could we improve?
Suggested Ground Rules for Conference Calls:
  • Come prepared, read all info sent in advance
  • Listen to understand and ask questions
  • Confidentiality regarding anything discussed on the call or not your call…
  • Stay open to new ideas and suspend assumptions
  • State your ideas concisely
  • When you join the call if you are delayed please announce yourself
  • Identify yourself when you speak
  • Help the group to focus on what we want to do or create not just the current reality
  • If you leave the call let the group know or alert people in your check in that you will leave early
Technical Noise Issues
  • Should anyone need to take another call during this conference call using the same line, we request that you leave this call and return afterward. Otherwise we risk hearing music while on “hold.” 
  • Please be conscious of dogs, children and other noise while on the conference call… please make every effort to be in a noise free environment.
  • Please limit multi-tasking that could be disruptive to other conference call participants or will affect your ability to be fully present. Skilled focused listening is key to this form of group interaction.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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