How to encourage participation in teleconferences

(and/or how to run effective teleconferences!)

I participate in a lot of teleconferences, and some of them aren't very participatory, for various reasons. Recently a good friend asked for suggestions on how to open up the phone calls, and I came up with the below ideas. What am I missing? What did I get wrong?


First, post a meeting agenda with a medium amount of detail, well in advance ( > 24 hours).

  • Posting an agenda in advance gives people time to think about things, if they are interested.
  • The medium amount of detail (up to a paragraph) lets people understand what it’s about, see what the major issues/questions are, and think of questions or comments they may have.
  • If the agenda is posted > 24 hours in advance, you can reasonably expect people to have read it, and if people want to add things to the agenda on the call you punt them to the next call instead.

Basically, if you spring a skeleton agenda on a group with < 3 hours to spare, no one will read it and even when they do they won’t room to dig into it.


Second, assign duties to multiple people and rotate.

  • Typical meetings need a timekeeper (keeping an eye on the agenda), a facilitator (keeping conversation moving), and a note taker (recording notes and action items).
  • Assigning these roles is less about authority and more about making sure someone has been given the responsibility.
  • It also means that at least three different “voices” are heard - two on the call, one in the notes - each time.
  • Rotating means that you’re not giving someone permanent authority, and also ensures that if someone isn't good at or dislikes one role, they’re not stuck on it. Nor do they necessarily escape practicing :)
  • Rotating also means that the convener or nominal authority is not always the person driving the conversation.
  • Having these roles means that at least three people will be engaged in the conversation, even if nobody else is :)

Third, pause after questions until the silence becomes slightly uncomfortable before proceeding.

  • People who are hesitant to speak will need the time to come forward.

(This is an approach that was taught to me during interview training at UC Davis!)


Fourth, provide a respectful way for people to indicate they are ready to speak.

  • e.g. type “hand” in chat, or Raise Hand in zoom.
  • this means it’s not just “first to interrupt” that gets to speak, which biases towards certain types of personalities
  • institute a rule that only the facilitator and timekeeper get to interrupt without a ‘hand’ (or maybe not even them).
  • encourage people to post low-key/non-urgent questions in the chat.

You can also circulate a set of rules and suggestions for how to participate effectively. Belinda Weaver wrote up this really great list from the Carpentries - it's a great starting point!

What am I missing? What did I get wrong?

--titus

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