Many people who manage conference calls will tell you they have have one of two problems: Either nobody talks, or too many people won't be quiet. Social butterflies can be much-needed lubricant for networking events, marketing and sales, but they can also make conference calls drag on unnecessarily. It's the role of the manager to make sure time is valued, everyone has their say, and the call is beneficial to those on it.
It'll only take one or two meetings to figure out who's monopolizing the conversation. In extreme situations, you may want to talk to them individually before the meeting about the need to cut down on time and only contributing when necessary. However, there are many other ways to quiet chatterboxes before going to that extreme.
Here are some key rules to set so that your conference calls are time-efficient and nobody dominates the proceedings to the point where the experience isn’t effective anymore:
1. Be the moderator.
Be Whoopi from The View, who is more or less in charge of keeping conversations on track. As a former TV man, I can tell you that having her position on a TV show mostly means that producers are talking t her through her earpiece more than the other members of the panel. They’re telling her how much time she has left in segments as well as other information. In this case, Whoopi is also the one who generally has the most overall experience in front of a camera, and maybe even the best organizational skills, so that’s why she’s in her position.
You can perform this function this yourself, or you can assign someone to be moderator who excels at it. These people have tact and a knack for encouraging quieter attendees to participate while keeping a tighter rein on louder participants. While those people like to talk more than others, especially with a captive audience, that doesn't mean they don't have anything of value to say. As a manager it's up to you to pull out the valuable pieces and keep things moving without hurting anyone's feelings.
2. Set the rules.
There should be written rules in place, regularly updated and, ideally, emailed out before each meeting as a reminder. If necessary, only allow a certain amount of time for each person to speak--especially for hot topics. Always allow people to opt out of their turn (there's not always something to contribute) and stick by those timelines. If necessary, you can go around a second time, but by then the chatterboxes might have discovered they've said their piece after all.
3. Table items that aren't being resolved.
If it's clear you're not getting anywhere, table the conversation for a later time when only the core group needs to discuss the details. Many conference calls get derailed when a group clamors over a topic that doesn't involve everyone--ultimately wasting time.
4. Have strict no interruption policies.
It's rude and unprofessional, so interruptions shouldn't have a place in business anyway. You might feel a bit like a Kindergarten teacher, so try having everyone keep their phones on mute until it's their turn to speak. This also reduces background noise, makes it easier to hear, and offers a better transcription if the call is being recorded.
5. Don't schedule during slow periods of the day.
If everyone knows they have nothing better to do, it can be tempting to drag out a meeting and let the chatterboxes “take care of it.” This can occur for example when you schedule the call at 4pm and everyone leaves for the day at 5. Sandwich conference calls between other events so everyone is more aware of the time and there’s pressure to get things done efficiently.
Perhaps the best way to keep calls going is to only invite people who really need to attend. Everyone's time has the same value, but “talkers” often don't realize they're taking over conversations. Only schedule calls when necessary, keep the attendees to a minimum, and have an agenda in place to keep on track.