Recently I’ve become the project manager of an international project with participants spread throughout six different countries on three separate continents: North America, Europe and Asia. We have been meeting to discuss a variety of different requirements documents, and for an international project team meeting means coming together from wherever (and whenever!) we are in the world to discuss online and via telephone. This gave me the idea to share some best practices that I’ve learned around hosting and attending international meetings.
1. Find a time that works for everyone
If you’re on a project team spread out across Europe, Asia and North America, it is likely that you’re going to have team members signing on during the morning, afternoon and evening depending on where they are located in the world. Be courteous and pick a time that works for everyone, and get agreement from the participants involved when you do. Also, when the meeting happens, respect the times agreed to for your meeting. If your meeting is scheduled for an hour, be sure to wrap up and close the meeting before or on the hour, as delaying the close of your meeting likely means that you’re cutting into someone’s personal time.
If you’re going to be holding a series of meetings over a period of days or weeks, you might consider agreeing upon different times during the day for different meetings so that the same people do not always get stuck with those unsavory extreme early morning or late evening calls.
2. Prepare an agenda before the meeting and use your time wisely during the meeting
International conference calls are often expensive, so spend some time before your call to decide what you are going to discuss during the meeting and lay out an agenda that can be agreed to by meeting participants over email. That way, when your meeting starts, you can get right to business and move quickly and smoothly through your prepared agenda. If there are questions or concerns about the agenda or about the topics to be discussed address those before the meeting start time to avoid delays during the actual meeting.
3. Use an online conferencing tool
Products such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting and GoToMeeting are extremely useful during international conference calls. Attendees can watch shared PowerPoint presentations or whatever other method of presentation you prefer to use. Make sure that everything works properly in advance of the meeting – one of the most common time wasters I’ve seen is waiting for someone to get their online meeting or teleconferencing system to work properly, or ensuring that everyone has the right software installed and ready to go on their personal machines at the start of the meeting.
4. Respect the languages and cultures of attendees
If you’re holding an international meeting, chances are that the language you’ll be using during the meeting will not be the native language of one or several of the attendees. During your presentation be aware that listening to another language over a telephone can be very difficult and frustrating, and make sure that the slides that you prepare before your meeting are clear and easy to understand. Avoid using slang or local vernacular during your meetings, as such language is not likely to be understood by someone not accustomed to using the language on a daily basis. And be sure to pause periodically to check to make sure that the discussion has been understood so far – let attendees know that any or all questions, no matter how simple they may seem, are welcomed.
On that same note, remember that people of different cultures and religions may be joining your call, and that these cultures and religions may be very different from your own. Be respectful of how you address the people on your call, always remain polite and courteous, and understand that people of some cultures and religions may have time limitations that are not the same as yours.
5. Take the opportunity to learn something new
It is not often that we get the chance to speak to someone in another continent, or to make a new friend with someone we may never have met in person! Take the opportunity to learn something interesting about that person, about their language, about the town where they live, or about their country – more, that is, than just what the weather happens to be like at the time! Remember, however, that different cultures may have different views on privacy and the sharing of personal information than your own – I’m not saying that you should be nosy and pry into someone else’s private life. But people are often touched when someone is interested in their language and culture, and are often glad to share interesting facts about their world with someone from abroad.
I hope that your international meetings are fun, fruitful, and interesting!