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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Informational Meetings

The other day we had a global announcement call. This is one of those conference calls where everyone dials in from various locations to get an update on how the business is doing. A senior manager for the division then presents to a room full of people and everyone else on a conference call. These type of meetings have a unique challenge in that they usually have a very large attendance by people located somewhere else. Meaning they have to call in via conference line.

When I wrote in my earlier post, did we do enough, that the second most important task is communicating the situation to investors. management, and staff this is one of the communication mediums that I had in my mind at the time. This type of conference call has a particular etiquette that I wanted to share:

- Plan an extra 15 minutes on the front of the call
- Disable the inbound and outbound announcement feature
- Mute all dialed in lines during the presentation
- Ask that everyone attending place their mobile phone on silent
- Plant questions before the meeting
- Always repeat the question


Plan an extra 15 minutes on the front of the call to allow for phone line congestion. I don't know about you but as a presenter it is challenging to stay on the topic with a large number of people still on their way into the meeting. When you have a large attendance at these types of meetings it is better to just plan the extra time in. Especially when many conference call systems cannot handle the large number of simultaneous dial ins and back up the callers. So just wait for a few extra minutes to let everyone work their way through.

Yes I get the appointments that say dial in 15 minutes early also and I even used to do the same thing with my meetings. I stopped. Why? because if I am booked in meetings back to back there is no way I can dial in early. So yeah I have someone else set up the conference room. But the reality many staff members are in the same situation and they don't personal assistants that can do the dialing in for them. Therefore my recommendation is to go ahead and plan it into the meeting. This will also provide walking around the room time to meet various team members and suggest some questions, which I discuss a little later.


Disable the inbound and outbound announcement feature
. Most conference call systems have a chime that will announce when someone has joined the call and when they leave. This chime is important for most calls it let's you know if you have others listening in on your call. However, for a call of this type it is really annoying because you tend to have a lot of late comers and then early leavers.

Mute all dialed in lines during the presentation. As the administrator on the call you have the ability to mute all other attendees on the line. This is an important practice. Thus eliminating my biggest pet peeve the "heavy breather"when some undoubtedly has their headset microphone set to close to their nose or mouth. This is my biggest frustration on calls, ask any of my staff (I am known for sending emails to remind individuals to mute their phones even after I announce the rules for the call)

Ask that everyone attending place their mobile phone on silent. All of the external lines should be muted so there will be less chance of interruption. but I am a big "belt and suspenders" man and want to make extra sure that we have as few interruptions as possible. I often explain that out of respect for all attendees please place your phones in silent mode just like in the movie theaters.

Plant Questions before the meeting
It often takes some time to get a group to loosen up enough to ask questions. Which is why I recommend planting a few managers in the audience with some of the tough questions that everyone wants to ask. There are two reasons for this. First, in many cultures meetings are for updates only and thus most of the questions never get asked. Second for the culture where this is not an issue it let's the attendees know that it is okay to speak.

Always repeat the question. I have found that no matter what, even if I am in the main conference room I am not able to hear at least one question when it was asked. The presenter should always repeat the question that was asked so that all attendees can hear. If the question is a long then paraphrase the question before answering. This will give all of the attendees a chance to hear what the question was.

I have found these six guidelines are very helpful in running the large information only meetings. Hopefully they will work for you as well. If you have any additional ideas that will help meetings go more smoothly I look forward to hearing from you.

If you liked this post you might like:
Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management
Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette
Meeting Dark Arts: Publishing Minutes
Meeting Dark Arts: Taking Notes
Meeting Dark Arts: Video Conference Etiquette

written by: Jeffrey Hurley in Central, Hong Kong

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