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May 31, 2008

Be a Successful Conference Call

Conference calls may be one of the most excruciating experiences for non-native English speakers. Personally, as a native English speaker, I often have difficulty understanding participants due to a number of factors: Sound quality, subject matter, number of participants, and effective leadership during the call.

Articulate and speak slowly and comfortably. Try to remove all unnecessary noise from your oral communication. For example, make a conscious effort to eliminate "Uh", "Right", "Uh-huh", "Um", "Like", and "You know". Those words may confuse non-native English participants.
Slow down the communication process. Pause between ideas (every 3 to 5 sentences) to give non-native speakers an opportunity to understand before continuing.
Be proactive. During the call, regularly remind participants that they may ask for clarification. Tell them that it is important to you that they understand. Give them permission to ask for clarification.
After important points and at the end of each topic, ask everyone, "Is that comprehensible?", "Was I comprehensible?", or "What questions do you have?"
Do not rush into the next topic. Be sure to give at least 30 seconds between topics for questions and clarification. At the end of each topic, rephrase important details and actions, even if participants do not ask for clarification.
Be an effective conference call leader. A leader ensures that comprehension is a priority. Leaders do not focus on the agenda, data, or action plans. They concentrate on creating a communication-friendly environment for everyone to appreciate and enjoy. How can a native English speaker expect a non-native speaker to participate or follow directives if he/she has trouble understanding? Of course, the minutes of the meeting often follows the call. However, productive and rewarding relationships are at stake. If there is little or no comprehension during a call, then non-native participants may as well not participate. They may feel alienated and understand more from the written minutes.

An effective leader guarantees that every participant articulates and speaks slowly
An effective leader guarantees that participants actively ask for clarification
An effective leader guarantees that participants understand by clarifying important details and actions at the end of each topic
An effective leader guarantees that if there is background noise, the call is put on hold until the noise is removed
An effective leader guarantees that there is feedback at the end of the call to see how communication could be improved during the next call

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