5 Tips for Conference Calls

I often work with clients remotely, so I spend a lot of time on conference calls. Here are my top 5 tips for making them better for everyone.

1. Speak up

Nothing is more frustrating than straining to hear someone mumbling quietly to the room. If you’re talking, presumably you want other people to listen to you, right?

You’re probably familiar with those lumpy phone things that get used in meeting rooms for conference calls. They have a couple of microphones for picking up the voices in the room, but usually don’t have per-person mikes. This means you get background echo mixed in with your voice, and the mike is a fair way away from you.

The person on the other side of the table is close, and doesn’t have phone system attenuation to deal with. Plus, they can get clues about what you’re saying by lip reading, watching body language, etc. The people on the phone get none of that.

You need to speak up, projecting your voice so that it can be heard clearly in all parts of the room. That way, the mikes have the best chance to pick up what you’re saying, and the people on the phone can hear you.

Also, practice speaking with clear diction. The voice algorithms used by phone companies tend to blur phonemes, so if you slur from one word to the next, the phone will make it worse.

2. Mute your phone

If you’re not talking, mute your phone.

No one needs to hear your children crying, or the dog barking, or your other phone ringing.

Take care to know when your phone is muted and when it isn’t. I’ve been on a few calls where someone made a snide aside to someone in the same room on their end that wasn’t intended to be heard by everyone.

Only they weren’t muted at the time. Oops.

3. Announce your presence

There are some sneaky people who dial in to a conference call, and then sit silently (with their phone muted, if they’re super-sneaky), listening to what others have to say.

It’s true that you can find out some interesting things with this technique. Many a time I’ve heard people badmouth a colleague on a conference call, only to have them pipe up and inform everyone that they heard every word.

It’s important that everyone in a meeting knows who else is there. The sneaky technique above is underhanded and disrespectful to your colleagues. Don’t do it.

4. Be on time

A conference call is just a meeting. Being late for a meeting is poor form. So it is for conference calls.

Some conferencing systems announce your presence to the whole call (see tip 3 above), so being late interrupts the person currently speaking. That’s like walking into a room 5 minutes late, slamming your notebook down and saying “Hi everyone! I’m here!” in the middle of the VP’s opening statements.

5. Take turns politely

If you’re on the phone, and there’s a room full of people on the other end with three talking at once, you can’t pick them out spacially because you only have one sound source: your phone. This makes it even harder to figure out what’s being said.

Make sure there’s only one conversation going on at a time. And don’t talk over one another. It’s rude normally, but it’s worse on a conference call.

Conferencing systems tend to favor a single voice over all the others, too, so if you’re talking, you can’t hear anyone else, and they can’t talk over you.

I’ve been on a few calls where someone on the phone was droning on and on about something irrelevant, and the meeting chair couldn’t get a word in edgewise to interrupt and keep things moving. That person’s reputation suffered as a result.

Don’t hog the spotlight. Make sure you yield frequently so other people have a chance to speak.

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