The ways we conduct business on the ever-changing global stage continue to evolve. Virtual teaming--once a tolerated inconvenience--has become for many the dominant mode of working.

One of the stages upon which virtual teams have to perform is the conference call. Crucial business is conducted here, including building and motivating teams, leading reports through challenges and opportunities, forging strong relationships with clients, growing collaborative partnerships and more.

At least that's the theory. In real life, conference calls have a well-deserved reputation for being, well, pretty awful. Studies show that engagement and productivity suffer significantly when meetings are held by phone, and if you haven't seen this video, you owe yourself a cathartic laugh.

Is there hope for the conference call? Can virtual meetings stop eroding productivity? And--let's think big--can conference calls be more than a substitute for face-to-face meetings? Can they become engaging and unexpectedly valuable environments for the growth of businesses and the leaders and teams within them?

The answer is yes--if you tap into the art and science of human communication and relationship-building to produce and perform these calls with creativity, flexibility, and care. By thinking of conference calls as performances, you'll be able to turn the audio-only environment to your advantage.

Here are some ways to get started:

1. Be human.

When it comes to being heard and not seen, radio personalities have a plenty of secrets for creating an effective performance. Try some of them.

If you smile as you speak, it adds energy to your voice and can brighten the mood of the call. For even more added energy and presence, put on a headset, stand up, gesture, even walk around as you speak. And--I know you'll think this is silly, but it works for me every time--pull up pictures of the people who'll be on the call, and look at them while you're speaking to them.

That simple bit of a human "prompt" will add connection, engagement--and maybe a little friendliness--to your performance.

2. Host like a pro.

Speaking of radio, bring some of the elements of good talk radio to your calls: the moderator is the host, and her other colleagues are "guests." The host introduces the "segment" (call topic), and orchestrates the call by directing questions and fielding answers, keeping the session moving crisply.

Be assertive but polite in doing so ("interesting thought, Jeremy; before you go further, let me swing this over to Jessica for her reaction.") Of course, this isn't appropriate for every call. But sharing these simple ideas with your team can eliminate confusion and significantly boost productivity.

3. Use improv to keep it connected.

With their constant risk of misunderstanding, derailing, and other conversational misfires, conference calls are the perfect place to practice your improvisational listening skills.

When someone speaks, listen carefully for what improvisers call "the offer"--any new information, a point of view, an idea, or an emotion. When you hear it, think (or say), "Yes, and..."

In other words, ask yourself how you can say yes to the offer, and add to it, build on it, or heighten it so that you're making the person who offered it look (or in this case, sound) good.

This will take some practice--one of the most common phrases in any meeting no matter where it's happening is "yes, but"--but tipping the balance toward collaborative listening can inspire others to follow suit and galvanize the group.