Five tips for hosting international conference calls

International meetingsRecently 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!

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10 Responses to “Five tips for hosting international conference calls”

  1. Hi Brian, here is something which has helped me out of a few bad situations:
    Sometimes I have a problem understanding others on a conference call (either due to language issues, accents, or bad phone lines). In those situation I ask the participants to “Instant-Message” the question to me.
    I always make sure that an Instant-messaging system is available for our international meetings/calls.


  2. Thank you Fronz! That is a great tip.

    As written communication is normally easier to understand for non-native language speakers than hearing the spoken word (especially over a telephone!) it does seem like a good idea to provide as much access to textual information as possible during these sorts of meetings. Instant messaging is a great resource, or for client calls, email or in-conference chat systems.

    Thanks again, and have a great week!

  3. Great article Brian! These tips apply to meetings in general … nicely organized and good advice. I would also add that you can then create a podcast of the meeting (simple to do using GoToWebinar or Webex [for Mac users] – and making it available to everyone. To take it to the next level you could even include a transcript of the meeting in an electronic format so it’s easy to have it translated by the meeting attendant. Thanks again for providing valuable information out here 🙂

  4. Thank you very much Barb! And yes, I very much agree with your point – it is a very good idea to create a podcast of the meeting so that users can review what they may have missed, or what may have been lost in translation.

    I also agree that a transcript can also be very helpful, though it does imply a lot of work – on the other hand, sending out a recap of the meeting minutes at some point after the meeting is another key task that is also very useful, and not quite such a challenging task.

    Thanks again!

  5. You’re right Brian! Meeting minutes are another huge part of it! But, yes, a lot of work for the transcript, however, I would respectfully argue that for SEO value, if the meeting is something that can be posted on the company’s website, then it might be the right balance for ROI (return on investment). Especially since there would likely be a good number of pages that could be generated [i.e. unique URLs – and that many more ways for people to ‘bump’ into you along the information highway]. If the company doesn’t have a lot of new content, then by splitting it up over time, it could also serve as a content stream – an important way to keep Google ‘interested’ in one’s site.

    In one of my previous roles, I learned a neat trick with YouTube videos using transcripts (keyword rich Google juice). We were able to land on the first page of highly competitive keywords simply by having a video – adding the transcript aspect to our postings was the back end of that tactic – we were able to successfully take advantage of the fact that videos come up in search results – and since our competition wasn’t making videos, we were right there with them on the first page of results – not for content, but for a video. And, it had a nice lift effect on page views and impacted time on site nicely too, thereby increasing our site’s authority… again agreed, a lot of work, but certainly worth considering – depending on your goals and objectives.

    By the way, thank you again for such a great site! Am enjoying our discussion.

    Happy Sunday!

  6. Hi Barb – that is amazing, I never thought about using transcripts to boost SEO on a site. That is a terrific idea! And especially relevant for those sites that warrant it for other reasons as well (such as sites that focus on things international, or the study of language and culture, that may be browsed by people who speak foreign languages or are trying to learn English). I’ll definitely keep that in mind; that is great advice.

    I’ve also found Google Chrome’s translate feature very useful – it doesn’t offer perfect translations by any means, but for a quick check on what you’re reading in a foreign language, it’s very helpful.

    Also, thanks for the kind words regarding my site – I appreciate it! Please let me know when your own site is up and running, I’ll drop by when it is.

  7. Yes, Google’s translators are great – they are getting better and better translations all the time. I speak Spanish and have seen an improvement in the last year.

    Thank you for the offer, I will definitely let you know and be back in the meantime 🙂

  8. Thanks again Barb – I hope you have a great week!

  9. Excellent post which you have shared with us.Keep doing good work.It is a detailed information about International Teleconference calls.

    These tips are helpful.

    Thanks for posting this article.


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About the Author

Website: Brian Crawford
I'm a Canadian and British dual citizen with an internationally-focused American MBA and an MS in International Project Management from a French business school. I am PMP, ScrumMaster, and ITIL Foundation certified. I'm particularly into travel, writing, and learning about different languages and cultures.