A Love-Hate Relationship with Conference Calls

If you have been on the Internet in the past few months, odds are you’ve seen this video called “A Conference Call in Real Life.” The video is funny if you’ve ever been on a conference call. It’s a facepalm moment for people like me who are on conference calls almost every day!

When you work from home, like I do, conference calls are a great way to stay in touch with clients, co-workers and partners. In fact, conference calls are one reason I’m able to do my job effectively from afar. But they aren’t perfect. Here are my tips for making the most of your conference call – whether you’re patched in to a room full of people or in a group full of remote participants.

As a participant…

  1. Mute yourself.

This is a common courtesy. I work at home, so if I’m on a call at the same time the mailman comes or while my neighbors walk by, my dog is going to bark. And while we’ve made some progress teaching him the “inside bark,” it’s definitely not reliable enough for me to think he won’t interrupt my call. Now, this isn’t always possible – sometimes I’m on a call and leading the meeting. But whenever possible, keep the distractions to yourself!

2. Interrupt strategically.
I will say it’s almost impossible to avoid interrupting someone on a conference call unless there’s a specific protocol in place for taking turns before you start. But my advice is to interrupt strategically. If it’s a brainstorm, write down a list of ideas or questions you have for when you get to speak. That way you aren’t interrupting someone with little to say. If it’s a meeting that involves sharing a computer screen, many platforms have messaging sections so you can submit questions without interrupting the speaker. Use them!

3. Move your cell phone.
The “cell phone static” definitely isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it can still be an issue, even if you aren’t on it. If you’re not using your cell phone for the call…move it

4. Don’t use the speaker if you don’t have to!

Unless you’re using a conference phone meant to be on the speaker function, I’m of the opinion that speakerphones do not work well for conference calls. My dad likes to call me from his office and put me on speakerphone. But I can’t stand the echo that comes with that. If everyone on a conference call is using the speaker, it’s difficult to hear what’s going on.

As a leader…

1. Establish a protocol for having other people speak up.

This goes back to interrupting strategically. If you’ve got a notes section or a messaging function you can use, encourage people to use it. If not, create an order or make sure to call on the person on the phone so he or she gets a chance to participate.

2. Sit close to the phone!

This is especially true if you’ve got one or two people calling in to a meeting while everyone else is there in person. Even the best conference speaker phones don’t always pick up on what everyone is saying. I call in to our staff meeting every week, and I can usually only hear one or two people. At Obsidian, they’re pretty good about repeating important things I may miss, but if you’ve never been on the other end, trust me when I say the callers will appreciate you sitting near the speaker.

3. Know how to operate the phone or service you’re using.

A co-worker and I were recently part of a computer-based meeting. When we signed on, the software made us download something, install it and sign up in order to participate. We were a few minutes late to the call because the host probably didn’t know that we would have to do that on the Macs we use. If it’s the first time you’ve used WebEx, GoToMeeting, your conference phone or another service, take some time to test it before you host a meeting with that technology. Not everyone uses the same computer, so it’s especially important to send out instructions if you find that different operating systems or browsers work differently.

Got some tips for conference calls that I missed? Leave them in the comments! I’m always working to improve my conference call skills.