47. The Calling: How to Make Your Conference Calls Better

\No one likes meetings.

At least not the way that they’re usually run now.

Power Point and Keynote have actually detracted as much as they’ve added to presentations. Presenters being more in the service of their slides than the story that they’re trying to tell.

Meetings in person can be rough sledding but conference calls have even more speed bumps.

You can’t see people’s reactions.

You’re not even sure if they can hear you.

And there’s less pressure for people not to check their phones.

Face it. Face-to-face isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than over the phone.

With many more meetings conducted over the phone than in person, let’s work on making these calls better. A lot better.

Welcome to Episode 47 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of snackable insights to help you navigate the everchanging world of creativity & marketing.

My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, where we hold no meetings without tacos or pizza.

If you find Navigating the Fustercluck to be helpful, please share it.

Now let’s help make teleconferences better.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

Every meeting should have a meeting before the meeting. Because most meetings should simply be exclamation points. The icing on the cake. Where everything comes together and you’re consolidating support for your ideas and executions.

Often the key to that is the conversation or conversations that precede the big meeting. The talks between Accounts and sometimes senior creatives with the client. Where things are smoothed out and people get on the same page.

That’s important in any meeting, phone meetings even more. Develop those allies on the client side that can read the room you’re not in and help make the sell.

The Ta-Dah Moment

Sometimes agency folks prefer to hold back on presenting ideas until the very last moment. They prefer to be like magicians, keeping their work secret until showtime and that big ta-dah! moment.

Maybe they think that they’re protecting the work by hiding the work. Maybe they’re afraid that once the work is exposed that it will suffer a death of a thousand cuts. Yet the AMA claims that the more interactions you have with the client, the better the work. The fact that many agency people don’t believe that points to the lack of trust that hinders truly innovative and breakout work. If that’s the case, then we may have to do a podcast on that. For trust is the cornerstone of every relationship. Personally, and professionally. But that’s for another day.


Who Should be in the Room?


Balance. Agencies are caught between wanting to be efficient with everyone’s time and exposing people to meeting situations so that inexperienced talent learn the game.

Teleconferences are a great opportunity to gain exposure for people. If the client can’t see who you have in the room, they won’t feel that their money will is being wasted. There’s no travel. And there won’t be the distraction of a full room. Just make sure that those extra people know their role and don’t talk, laugh or distract.


Everybody has got to have a role and know their role.

One person has to be the quarterback. Be the glue. Everyone else has their particular section to lead. Competing voices will tear the whole effort apart. Know your roles.

If the meeting takes a detour don’t panic and blurt something out. Huddle with your team. Write notes. Take advantage of not being visible.

The Pre-ramble

Getting off to a good start is critical to a successful meeting. One of the most important roles the leader of your call has is to do the pre-ramble. The set-up.

We get so excited about presenting the work that we forget to lay out the situation for the client, especially their Ultimate Decision Maker. Someone who has not been in the center of the work at hand. Someone not familiar with all the ins & outs and detours the work has probably taken.

You have to frame the story for them. Lay out the narrative. Put them in a good mood, and eliminate any potential confusion.

Everything needs to lead up to and build up the creative. And when you get to the creative there should be a pre-ramble as well. Tell a story. Use a quote. Anything that will make the central truth of the work undeniable.


We were working on a beer that touted itself as being all about friendship. Here’s how we set the stage…

Have you ever noticed that when you’re around your friends- your really good friends- that you wind up finishing each other’s sentences?


It’s as if you have a language all your own, right?


(Multiple “yes’s”& mmm-hmm’s came back over the line.)


Well, the research agrees with you.

You see, we interviewed groups of good friends and that’s exactly what they said, too. That good friends have a language all their own.


And so that’s the insight that we’ve built the work around.


What you’ll see are various scenarios where good friends are enjoying one another’s company. And while their conversations seem pretty ordinary, we use subtitles to translate their secret language of friendship.


It’s the contrast between what these friends are saying out loud and what they’re really saying to one another that makes the spots true and funny.


And because you’re the best beer for best friends, no-one can speak this truth like your brand.

At this point, we started presenting the work. And they loved it. Afterwards, they told us that we had them at the set up. The actual work was the cherry on top. BTW…the beer brand was Molson.

Sending Over the Deck

To send the deck beforehand or not to send the deck beforehand. That’s the question. Well, here’s a couple thoughts…

Don’t Have a Deck

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos hates Power Point and Key Note even more than we say we do. So much so that he has banned them. In place of slides, Amazon requires 1-5 page memos that everyone reads to themselves at the beginning of the meeting.

This could get you past all the understanding lost over the phone. And a Word document is a lot easier to get through email than a big, fat file.

As for storyboards, if you can tell a story artfully, do you need them? They can be as confusing as slides.

Split Send 

Send out the first part of the presentation beforehand.

Send the second half during the presentation of the first half.

The first half would be strategy. The second creative.

If it’s cheating by clients that you dread, then this may be your route.

It’s a Radio Show

Listen to old radio shows or podcasts. Listen to how they use their voices to make themselves clear. How they pace themselves. Their cadence. Give a performance, not a presentation. Presentations are boring. Performances move people emotionally. And if you don’t move your audience emotionally, odds are you haven’t moved them intellectually, either.

Also make your voice distinct. Remember, they can’t see you! So introduce yourself when it makes sense.




The first thing you should remember about recommendations is to actually have one!

Creative directors and clients hate when you make a good presentation and when they ask for a recommendation…Silence! It drives them nuts. It shows that you’re unprepared. It shows that you don’t have a strong POV. And it shows that you’re not fulfilling your leadership role on the account. C’mon people! The awkwardness of that moment can spoil an otherwise solid meeting.

Beat Them to the Punch

Right after you’re done with presenting the work, don’t hesitate. Tell the client that unless they have something to say that you’re ready to make your reco. And when you do, don’t hesitate. Tell them, that while you love all your children equally, that one of them is a little more “equal” than the rest. And that idea is…and here’s why. Strategically. Creatively. Whatever it is. And it helps if the reco is rehearsed or at least mapped out and agreed upon beforehand.


Time to Take a Short Breather… (EXHALE.)

…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m your host, Wegs. And this has been an exploration of phone meetings.

One final thought to take advantage of the format…

Plan B

Now if in the course of the call an idea is dead on arrival, the client basically kills as it’s presented, then don’t be stupid, change your reco. Meet quietly off mic and figure out an adjustment. Take advantage of the ability to huddle privately.

Well, that about wraps up our 47th episode of Navigating the Fustercluck.

Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, and thanks again for listening in and supporting us. And if you have more thoughts on improving conference calls, please, please feel free to reach out to me personally at wegs24x7@gmail.com or NavigatingTheFustercluck.com, where you can find transcripts to this episode and our first 46 efforts. Finally, remember, we’re all in this together. So, here’s to you. Here’s to the future.