How to Make Con Calls More Rewarding (and Less Frustrating)

Love it or hate it, con calls are the future. So how do we ensure they’re as productive as they could be? Here’s how.

Image credits: Artist @gemmacorrell

You’ve probably had more con calls over the past 3 months than you’ve had in the whole of 2019. And while it may seem like we’re getting better at them, chances are our virtual catch-ups haven’t been as productive as we think.

Apparently, we spend more than 33% of every video call dealing with distractions and interruptions. And if it’s not time wasted, it’s time poorly spent. Whether it’s a louder caller dominating the conversation, or a tedious discussion that leaves participants struggling to pay attention.

So, if con calls are here to stay, how do we ensure they’re as — or more — effective than face-to-face meetings? Here are some ways.

Get tech on your side

Tech defects are undoubtedly the usual suspects of unproductive con calls. A patchy connection or buggy sound system often detract from what’s being said and can be frustrating for everyone.

A way around this? Firstly, arrive early at the call with a work buddy to have a tech run.

Test your audio and see which set-up yields the best sound: Wireless headset, wired earphones, plug-in speakers. Find one that works and have the others as back-ups.

If you’ve got a sluggish connection, consider updating your infrastructure with a mesh Wi-Fi system or even new networking gear.

But for a quick fix, try tapping onto your phone’s hotspot, connecting to your router via an ethernet cable, or even going video-less to free up the bandwidth.

Assign a facilitator

On calls, we’re more prone to speaking over one another. This usually results in some speakers consistently overpowering others or an awkward back-and-forth of “no, you first”s. This can disrupt the rhythm of a discussion and even stunt participation.

For smaller groups or informal catch-ups, the effects are lesser felt and more easily resolved by letting everyone have a turn.

But the larger the group and the more formal the setting, the more pertinent it is to have someone guide the discussion—whether it’s to get the ball rolling, call on individuals, or even poll the “room” for general sentiments.

The presenter may naturally take on that role, but it can be challenging to juggle between delivering the content, while also keeping track of comments and managing participants. A tag team of presenter and facilitator aids in ensuring that the content is presented well and participants are continually engaged.

Keep an agenda — and keep it short!

Unless the meeting is concise, engaging, and makes a point, you’re probably going to tune out and end up wasting a lot of time on calls that achieve little.

That’s why Forbes suggests disseminating an agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting. That way, the road map is clear. Everyone is on the same page and can later participate effectively.

An agenda also helps keep the discussion on track and on time. Whatever’s not on it or doesn’t fit within the time should be addressed separately. According to one expert, meetings within 45 minutes are most effective. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but consider that the longer the meeting, the more likely people will drift off.

Even for last-minute calls, the principle applies: be clear on meeting objectives and stick to them. Set a time limit and respect that others may do the same. Don’t feel guilty about being protective of your time. There’s a place and time for chit chat—and it’s not on work calls!

Set ground and house rules

Dogs barking or unwitting passersby in the background, home life will sneak into meetings from time to time, causing amusing yet intrusive disruptions to calls. While unavoidable, here’s how you can minimise them.

Communicate expectations early on. For example, unless speaking, participants should be on mute. Email or text alerts should be set to silent to avoid a symphony of chiming while the meeting is ongoing.

Then, set rules for your home and family. Perhaps a closed door or earphones plugged in signal that you’re not to be disturbed. Or reserve a spot for calls against a wall or window so that no one pops up behind you unaware.

Conclusion: Keep practising

Ready or not, the future of remote working is upon us. The good news is that there are ways to execute effective con calls—and we will get better at it with time.

Plus, consider the benefits. The time saved on commuting, and the cost and environmental benefits it brings. The fact that calls can be recorded and played back if needed. Or how most virtual meetings start promptly because turning up is as easy as clicking a few buttons!

Face-to-face meetings may not disappear completely. But mastering the art of remote working is how we’ll be successful in a post-pandemic era.

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