How to host a conference call

How to host a conference call (Image credit: Thinkstock/Creatas)

Thanks to modern technology, taking part in a conference call couldn't be simpler. Just follow the instructions from the call leader when inputting your pin at the bridge and before you know it, you can be talking with colleagues and business associates from anywhere in the world.

Sometimes, it might be the case that you are the one doing the organising and leading of the conversation. When this happens, it's still easy to do – although there are a few subtle differences you need to bear in mind to ensure the process is a productive one for all parties involved.

With this in mind, here are a few tips on how you can be a successful conference call host.

What do people need to know before a conference call?

The most obvious piece of information you will need to pass on to all participants is when it is going to take place.

To ensure that teleconference takes place at a time that is suitable for everyone, you might want to use an organisational tool like Doodle, which allows you to offer a choice of meeting times to your guests, who can then select the slots that are most suitable for them. When they have all replied, you can then pick the date and time that presents itself as the common denominator and go from there.

Once this has been done, your next step is to confirm the meeting will be taking place by sending out invites. Certain programs will allow users to automatically add the event to their computer or smart device's internal calendar, so they have a reminder of when it will be occurring. 

However, don't presume this will guarantee that everyone will remember this information – it's certainly worth sending an email to all participants a few hours before the call to remind them that it is due to take place. Similarly, you may want to include an 'emergency' number that they can contact you on if they have difficulty dialling in or have to cancel at the last minute.

Letting guests know how long you expect the meeting to last is another piece of useful information you may like to include in any initial invite, so they can ensure they won't be having to leave the call early to go to another meeting.

With Buzz Conferencing, it's easy to setup your free conference call. All you need to do is enter your name and email address, then send out the generated pin that your guests need to use to join the teleconference.

Finally, it's often a good idea to email across an agenda of what the call is likely to cover before it takes place. This will allow your guests adequate time to prepare and also give everyone an expectation of the format the conversation is likely to take, meaning the teleconference should be more efficient as a result.

How to be an effective conference call host

When leading a conference call, it's important to have a clear idea of how you expect the teleconference will run and to stick to that plan. 

Naturally, conversation will sometimes move off-topic and when it does, you need to be able to steer it back on course. Remember, you'll have already given everyone an indication of how long the call would last, so you don't want it running over that time slot and have people needing to leave before you've covered all the subjects you planned on discussing.

Managing to do this can often be a mix of using your people skills and being generally efficient. If you do feel the need to interrupt someone to re-focus the conference, try not to use a 'railroading' technique of just talking over them until they give up. Instead, find a suitable point to jump in and apologise for cutting them short, before perhaps reminding them of the time constraints you need to adhere to.

As the chair of a teleconference, it's also your responsibility to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to put their view across. You can do this by introducing callers to one another at the start of the conversation and then asking for different participants' opinions – when relevant – throughout the call, if you notice they are being particularly quiet. Not everyone will feel comfortable jumping in when others are speaking, but they may still have valuable contributions to make and just need a helpful nudge to share them with the group.

At the end of the call, it is your responsibility to summarise what's been covered and to suggest how the information can be used to move forward. Usually, this update will be sent as a follow-up email, where you can also give participants the opportunity to ask any questions they may not have had chance to during the teleconference.

The most important thing to remember is that you have decided to host the conference call for a particular reason and it is down to you to ensure that your goals have been met by the end of the meeting. Like many elements of business, the key to this is preparation and organisation, and by following these steps you should be able to chair a teleconference in an effective and efficient manner.