Conference calling is often touted as the more productive way to have a meeting. In many cases it is, however, some calls are so badly organised, chaired and processed, that it may have been better to meet face to face - or not meet at all.
1. Don't start on time.
"We'll wait another couple of minutes for Dean and Tam."
"Is Mike on the line?"
"Janet can you call Mike on his mobile to check he is dialling in"
If 20 people wait 3 minutes past the start time for the people who have not joined the meeting it means 1 hour has been wasted. If 100 people wait 3 minutes it is the equivalent of 5 hours wasted by the organisation.
A good way round this problem is to predictably open the line 5 minutes before the session starts and then predictably start on time - every time. You wouldn't keep the meeting room door locked until the advertised start of the meeting.
2. Use slides
"For those of you with Internet connections, you'll see the agenda. What? Oh Mary, yes, I'm sorry, the agenda is so up to date it couldn't be circulated beforehand."
"Can everyone see the slides?"
"Next slide please. No, go back one. Yes, that's it."
Slides are used mostly as personal notes for the person speaking. As some people don't have access to the computers when they dial in, any necessary slides should be circulated before the call (rather than afterwards). Some learning styles work better when they have had time to read and then contribute.
3. Rely only on audio
Meetings of any sort work best when there is trust. Unless the session is an online seminar when your role is to push out information via some slides to a large group, then video is essential. Even in the seminar option, the speaker needs to use video. The more participants who use video, the more everyone will pay attention and not do their email at the same time. Multitasking is proven not to be productive. A 90 minute conference call with everyone doing two tasks at once is unproductive. It could be replaced by a 30 minutes, focused, video-face-to-face committed time discussing what matters.
When presenters refuse to use the video option they lack the ability to influence using body language. The same goes for listeners. This makes the call ineffective and unproductive as messages have to be repeated.
4. Don't use names
'Thanks for that..um.. sorry, who was that who agreed to review the budget?"
Audio, especially without visual, is anonymous - which may account for why some groups enjoy using it - it feels like they are having meetings yet no much happens to move the work forward. Anonymity is not a good name as it means listeners have to work hard to keep connected.
Each time you speak, say your name: '"Sarah here, I like what you're proposing Simon, however, I am not sure about item 3." Try and say the other person's name as often as possible to let them know you are connecting with what they are saying.
5. Have a call when an email would have done
Holding a meeting is an act of power and control, and one to be used with care. If the intent of the call is to share information then consider first whether an email or discussion group would be a better and more productive option. If group discussion is required - then a call is good. If information needs to be shared and not much discussion is expected or required, then another method is far more productive. Many calls can be replaced by the use of efficient and productive discussion groups and document storage systems. Huddle is a great one, though Google groups/documents is a good start. The real issue here is about power and control; relinquishing the weekly conference call and replacing it with an online discussion group means someone has lose control of the process.