Teleconference Boredom? Five Steps to Relief

Don't drag the central location conference speaker across the table. It's painful for those dialing in.[1]

The reminder above to avoid hideous noises while on a teleconference call, though primitive, rings true.

Witness yesterday: “First let me promise you there will be no trains coming through on this call.” Dave Rimmer, a Shell U.K. Exploration and Production Information Manager, was recalling a previous teleconference with us in Aberdeen, Scotland, and him in Lowestoft, England.

When Dave’s on a teleconference and a train goes by, as it does every half hour or so in the U.K.’s most easterly town, it sounds like the engine is full throttling out-of-control down the phone line, rather frightening if you’re unprepared. Much like the screech of the dragging phone, it does damage to our overly-exercised eardrums.

Getting the sound at the right db level is only a pre-requisite for a virtual meeting, not a promise. While effective virtual meetings are gratefully acknowledged and result in better communication, the more frequent bad ones add to the organizational grumble and contribute to distraction. Even face-to-face meetings are unpleasant enough; now we have to suffer through even worse virtual ones?

What to do, oh, Virtual Beatrice? (I once wrote an advice column.)

Agree to the few following big basic rules — and follow them. They are essentially common sense. Until good virtual meetings are as second-nature as good phone calls, never deviate from the basics.

Hold all meetings in a virtual team room where only best practices prevail — even if you’re meeting face-to-face. Yes, hold all real-time meetings from within your team’s virtual room. What is a “best-practices” virtual team room? Key successful methods for virtual work inform the room’s design. Follow the “instructions” by populating the room’s walls, and your team is on its way to effective virtual meetings.

Keep everything the team needs in the virtual team room. Mission, vision, charter, tasks, actions, discussions, deliverables, agendas, meeting notes, attendance lists, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, accountabilities, contact information, links, operating principles, norms, decisions. Everything.

With all of that available, now have your virtual meeting using a teleconference with real-time web conferencing and:

It’s work, yes, to do all of this, but so is the alternative with poor communication and grumpy team members. With the approach above, meetings do get better. You can “hear” smiling faces. And, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will allow a train to run through your meeting while dragging the phone across the table.

About the author:

Jessica Lipnack is CEO of NetAge, Inc., a consultancy focused on global collaboration strategies, methods, and tools. She is co-author, with Jeffrey Stamps, of six books, including Virtual Teams (John Wiley & Sons, 2000).

[1] “Do you know the rules and manners of an effective virtual meeting?” by Loretta W. Prencipe, InfoWorld [1],