Gone are the days when you could just walk down the corridor or across the room to speak to the people you most need to influence.

When I ask senior executives to estimate how much of their time they spend in remote meetings and conference calls the reply is usually between 30 and 50% with some estimating it much higher.

My clients tell me how difficult they find it to keep people engaged when they are presenting in this type of meeting. Often you are working with people you’ve never met who are in different parts of the country and frequently different parts of the world.

When you are speaking with someone face to face or in a small group it’s much easier to keep their attention. If they are in an office in a different location it seems you have very little control. But remember it’s your responsibility to get their attention and keep it.

Conference Calls

How to get their attention and keep it

Here are 5 proven techniques to get you started (more to come in later blogs). It all starts with the preparation.

  • Only invite people who really need to be there

There is a tendency to invite a lot of people to a call who don’t really need to be on it. If you go to a concert and half the audience aren’t very interested it creates a terrible atmosphere. The uninterested tend to negatively influence the interested. And this can happen on your call. Get the right people there and no-one else.

How do you know who needs to be there? Read on …

  • Have a compelling purpose

This is different from the agenda. The purpose is all about what needs to be achieved on the call that could not otherwise be achieved as effectively. For instance to make a decision, agree next steps or seek opinions.

People often say they are giving an update. In an hour-long call many in your audience only need to hear a little bit of the information.

So what do they do the rest of the time? The same as you! They answer emails, conduct internal messaging conversations, speak to people who walk into their room, feed the dog (if working from home) … and many other distracting activities which are all sucking the life out of the attention level on your call.

If you have a weak or unclear purpose you will have a weak or unclear call.

  • Create a practical agenda

What’s a ‘practical’ agenda? It has these characteristics:

  1. Specific – Every item is easy to understand and implies a decision or action
  2. Realistic – You will be able to complete it without out rushing any item
  3. Timed – You have allocated a time slot for each of the items
  4. Owned – Every item has an owner who knows what they want to achieve
  5. Ending – You allow time in the agenda for a review of agreed actions and next steps
  • Involve others – in advance

If you go into important calls without speaking in advance to key contributors and with the feint hope that they’ll say the right thing at the right time then you are planning like an amateur rather than a professional.

Get your contributors lined up in advance just like you would if you were running a seminar. This includes the people you need to comment and engage in ways other than presenting themselves. Give them forewarning.

  • Never book it on the hour

Most calls are booked on the hour and often for an hour. This means that your audience jumps out of one call straight into the next. Time your call so they have a little time to regroup, gather their thoughts and be on time for your call.

People ask me …

‘How can I do all this for all my calls?’

I say, ‘Don’t do it for all your calls – just the really important ones.’ And then I ask them why they are wasting their time having unimportant ones!

Your comments, thoughts, tips and experiences are welcome.