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Six Tips for Better Conference Call Etiquette

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I do a lot of conference calls, and I find it hard to speak up and be heard. What can I do to be a more active participant?

A: Like so many things, a successful conference call requires planning and careful execution. The success of the call depends heavily on the organizer, but often, no one takes the time to plan the call.

Since many people work remotely or—especially in associations—interact with volunteers or other external team members, conference calls can be daily occurrences. Sometimes they even happen spontaneously. I've been in situations where a few people are meeting and suddenly decide to conference in another team member who has no idea the call is coming or what it's about—making it much harder for that person to contribute and for the call to be productive.

Ideally, just as if you were planning an in-person meeting, you should create an agenda, set timeframes for agenda items, and make sure the right people are on the call. Four is the optimal number of participants, but that may be unrealistic if you have a large team.

Since many people work remotely or—especially in associations—interact with volunteers or other external team members, conference calls can be daily occurrences.

Even if you're on a call with a large number of participants and the organizer has done little or no preparation other than to set up the call, there are some things you can do to model good conference call behavior.

  1. Call in a few minutes early, just as you would get to the meeting room a few minutes early if the meeting were in person.
  2. Introduce yourself when you dial in. You can use just your first name if you know everyone, but if the call includes people you don't interact with often, give your full name and mention your department and title.
  3. Wait a second after someone else finishes talking before jumping in. This small pause helps prevent you from talking over the other person. Hopefully, the call moderator will notice if multiple people are trying to jump in simultaneously and will call on people to speak in sequence. If that doesn't happen, be patient, but don't give up.
  4. When you do get the chance to speak, announce your name again before asking your question or making your comment. If you do this, others may follow suit. This helps keep the call on track.
  5. Mute your phone when you're not talking to keep background noise (people entering your office, dogs barking if you're working at home) from disrupting the call. Do your best to call from a quiet place, which is probably not your local coffee shop.
  6. Pay attention to what is happening on the call—being on a conference call is not the time to check your email. No matter how boring the conversation may be, do your best to stay engaged.

Speaking up to get your point across takes courage and some practice, but if you follow these tips you should find that you’ll have more successful conference calls.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected].

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