Magazine article Training & Development

Make the Most of Teleconferencing

Magazine article Training & Development

Make the Most of Teleconferencing

Article excerpt

Here are some tips for powerful and cost-effective teleconferencing, particularly for teams.

An award-winning, quality-improvement team at a large corporation has worked together amicably and productively for more than three years, though some team members have never met face-to-face. The team meets through teleconferencing.

When project stakeholders are in different locations, teleconferencing can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional meetings. But for it to be an effective communication vehicle, participants should follow certain practices. Here are some tips for making teleconferencing fast, efficient, inclusive, and participative. The key to success is a little work by all participants - before, during, and after the teleconference.

Before

The main steps in setting up a teleconference are:

* determining the purpose

* selecting the appropriate participants

* creating a broadcast code for e-mail contact

* sending the PAL (purpose, agenda, and time limits) to participants

* distributing support materials.

The first requirement of any teleconference is a purpose in which participants have a stake. The person convening the teleconference should speak with potential participants to discuss their ideas and concerns and to clarify the purpose.

It's best to be inclusive when possible. If people want to attend, let them. But they must have a stake in the topic. And they must be willing to participate, not just observe.

Next, it's necessary to create a "broadcast code"'so that e-mail messages can be transmitted to all participants simultaneously regarding the roster, contacts, and other information.

Before the teleconference, the team leader should send the purpose, agenda, and time limits (or "PAL") to all participants. It's usually best to provide this information two or three days in advance. That's soon enough so that participants can prepare, but not so soon that they forget it by the time the teleconference takes place.

Similarly, it's best to send support materials and other documentation no more than a week ahead of time. If you send them any sooner, they might get buried under participants' regular work papers. But sending them later curtails group members' opportunity to offer feedback.

Target audience members who can't take part should nominate their replacements and empower them to make decisions. Substitute attendees should do more than just report on a teleconference; absent participants can just as easily read the minutes afterward. When a stakeholder is habitually absent in team teleconferences, it's time to seek a new recruit.

During

The necessary components of a teleconference fall into three categories: mechanics, manners, and motivation.

Mechanics. The mechanics of managing a teleconference are vital to success. The team leader or the person who convenes the teleconference is usually responsible for most of the mechanics.

The teleconference should begin within five minutes of the agreed-on start time. When the teleconference leader manages to end a meeting ahead of time, participants are likely to feel especially efficient.

The content should follow the preset agenda, varying only when participants agree to depart from it. When discussions wander from the agenda, the leader should intervene and suggest tabling tangential issues. The leader can refer to this approach as "putting things in the parking lot." But the parking lot shouldn't become a black hole. The leader should follow up on "parked" issues later, when the time is right.

Don't discuss documentation or other written materials unless all participants have copies.

When a participant is called away from a teleconference, the leader should announce the person's absence, especially for audience members who are at different sites. …

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