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2007-09-11 08:43:00

4 Keys to Leading Effective Conference Calls

Byron Van Arsdale, MCCDuring the 2007 NAR AE Institute Meeting in San Diego, Matt Farmer recommended using conference call technology as an affordable way to provide education and risk management training during his “Don’t Walk the Plank: Risk Management for the 21st Century” presentation. This is a GREAT idea and here are four potential pitfalls to avoid when using this technology for your association or firm.

1.  Location, Location, Location

Every meeting planner and trainer knows the importance of the physical location for meetings and trainings. A poor location can be more than just a distraction – it can ruin an event. Choose your conference call provider on more than just how much it costs. Cost conscious people may think they are saving money by using providers offering free conference calls. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for! For as little as $30 per hour or $250 per month (unlimited calls, 24/7), you can get reliable, high quality teleconference lines.  The money you invest goes directly toward your peace of mind of having selected the right location.

2.  Speakerphones Are Neither Convenient nor Effective.

Conference call productivity is directly tied to the level of connection between you and your participants. This connection can be to the agenda, content, leader, and/or other participants on the call. As connection drops, participants mentally disconnect from the call. Day dreaming and/or multitasking are two early indicators that participants have mentally left the call. As connection decreases, participants ultimately hang up. As connection increases, so does the level of dialogue, energy and respect.

OK, how does this relate to using a speakerphone when running meetings or delivering training by conference call? Speakerphones directly contribute to this sense of disconnection during a conference call. Experiment by calling a friend and talking with them for a short period of time. Then ask your friend to put you on speakerphone and continue the conversation. After a few minutes, ask them to come off of speakerphone to finish up the conversation. Note how you felt before and after being put on speakerphone.

Leading a conference call while holding a handset is a not a pleasant task. Instead of using a speakerphone, buy a quality headset with a mute button. Not only are your hands free, you can quickly mute your line if you need to cough or sneeze during your conference call.

3.  Telling is Not Selling – Nor is it Training.

Whether you are running a meeting or delivering training by conference call, there is a huge temptation to “fill the space” when the participants on the call are silent. As a culture, the West is far more uncomfortable with silence than our counter parts in the East. This urge to fill the space by talking is both natural and counter-productive.

In 1984, Don Sheehan wrote, “Shut Up and Sell!” to remind real estate agents of an essential strategy for success in sales. Adopting this same strategy is a key to leading effective conference calls. Ask good questions and use silence to invite your participants to contribute their ideas, wisdom, and input into your call. 

4.  Let Go of Control and Rely Upon Trust.

Adults and children share the same dislike about being controlled in the learning process. The difference is that adult learners have extensive business experience to draw upon when learning. Oh, and they can and will leave when someone is wasting their time.

Whether you are holding a meeting or delivering learning by conference call, it is essential to rethink how you present information and run your meeting. Novice conference call leaders use an agenda and control to insure a smooth meeting because they do not trust the participants to follow the “right” path. Expert conference call leaders use questions and dialogue while trusting the participants to discover the right path.

Rarely do presentations, meetings, and assignments go exactly as they are planned. This does NOT mean we do not plan our meetings and presentations. It means that we, as leaders, must be prepared to ask questions that we do not know the answer to and go in directions that we had not planned for. Ignore your need to control the process to feel more comfortable. Instead, give your participants a chance to look brilliant by asking them to help determine the direction of the learning process. This is not an easy task to fully embrace yet it will pay you huge dividends in the long run!

Leading an effective conference call is much easier when you start with a solid foundation. Knowing about and avoiding these four pitfalls will carry you a long way to leading a successful conference call.

(Byron Van Arsdale, Founder of is a former owner/broker and married to Bernice L. Ross, Founder of Over the past 12 years, he has trained thousands of people to confidently lead effective and engaging conference calls. He is the author of over 30 hours of audio CD training, an internationally acclaimed speaker, and holds the Master Certified Coach designation from the International Coaching Federation. You can contact him at

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