Conference are a necessity when doing business. When you are the one organizing the call, put some thought in how you can make it engaging for the participants.

Conference calls are a staple of doing business. Yet we all know how they sometimes can feel like a waste of time and energy. I assume you know the great video about the horrors of conference calls … . Someone asked me recently how to make conference calls more fun and engaging. So here are a few thoughts of what you can do as the organizer of the conference call. I am focusing on the interactions, not on the technology challenges.

(1) Know them. Know some bits about who’s on the call, even if you don’t know them very well. If you don’t know them personally, do some homework and check what is going on in their city or country. This

allows for some small talk at the beginning of the call, waiting for everyone to arrive.

(2) Check-in. Start the meeting with a check-in round. Ask each to share something that was exciting in their last week or month. Make the question specific but non intrusive (don’t ask for “something about your private life”). When someone arrives late, ask them to do the same. The check-in should be part of the meeting, not a way to kill time.

(3) Balance the participation. As meeting organizer, keep an ear open for who talks and who does not talk. Pause the discussion to make sure all have a chance to ask or share. Do not force people to speak (“What do you think, Dan ?”) because that is putting them on the spot. If people don’t contribute, address this in a separate discussion one on one. To ensure decisions are shared, do a round robin asking yes/no or

(4) Summarize. Always summarize the key decisions/agreements at the end of the meeting.

(5) Check-out. Very important to do a check-out. First time you do this, announce it at the start of the meeting. Make the check-out so that it motivates people to remain active in the meeting. Again, make it specific, for example “What do you think we did pretty good in this meeting ?” or “What did you appreciate from this meeting ?”. First time will be a bit awkward but this check-out can turn into a meaningful form of peer feedback.

All this shouldn’t seen as a “waste” of precious conference time, but a way to build connections.