Scheduling a teleconference in lieu of a face-to-face meeting is appealing: no travel arrangements, a smaller time commitment, and far less cost. It's
appealing all right, and so even more necessary to weigh associated expenditures against desired outcomes. It's a classic cost-benefit scenario; as you
work out the analysis, consider most carefully the benefit you expect the meeting to deliver. The teleconference offers limited opportunities for success,
so for many communication purposes, it will not serve well. There are two purposes, however, for which a teleconference is generally appropriate: to tell
and to decide.
A teleconference is often effective for sharing news and information. It can be used to facilitate communication with a large group of people such as a
division but also a smaller, targeted group such as a team. When its purpose is to tell, the teleconference can be more efficient and timely than written
communication and carries the advantage of offering listeners an immediate opportunity to respond, seek clarification, and make suggestions.
Additionally, the teleconference is suited to a Q&A format when participants have received information about which they now have questions. Some
organizations also offer periodic Town Hall Meetings via teleconference as a way for distant or high-ranking management to stay connected with staff and
their concerns. By any measure, engagement is good.
What kinds of news can be shared in a teleconference? Generally, good, or, at least, factual and neutral information. But there is one inescapable caveat:
Know your audience. The teleconference is usually not the medium for sharing information that participants regard as highly controversial or that affects
A teleconference can also be appropriate for decision-making. When a group or team has reached the end of a process, it can make a decision on options or
next steps via teleconference. But while all organizing and conduct rules still apply, some others may have to be
Participants will need to agree on decision-making rules. Primary among these, of course, is whether the group supports consensus or voting as the means of deciding or, perhaps, wishes to transfer that power to a higher level. But the group may also wish to select or prioritize the factors it will consider as it reaches decision. In all cases, the group must know what the driving factors are. Cost? Safety? Market share? Future benefit? It can then weigh those factors appropriately as it moves toward decision.
Finally, the group should characterize the decision it seeks. Must it be the best, optimal decision? Can it be an adequate or "satisficing" decision—one
that satisfies and suffices but is not necessarily the absolute best?
Whether the purpose of the teleconference is to tell or to decide, make supplemental material available prior to its start or use a Webconferencing service
to support the audiotrack in real-time. If participants stop to search for charts, data sheets, or other visuals in order to understand information or
decision factors, it becomes nearly impossible to keep the group on task.
Teleconferences can help you achieve well-defined communication goals that do not have an emotionally disturbing or discordant undertone. For many other
purposes, they aren't so effective, no matter how many good tactics you employ.