Let's face it: conference calls can be awkward. Scratchy sounds. Dead air. Something about not seeing the people you're talking to (and their nonverbal cues, like facial expressions and hand movements) makes it harder to communicate.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some conference call etiquette do's and don'ts so you can have a smoother meeting.
1. Fix Technical Difficulties Beforehand
Dropped calls are annoying - especially when you're having a conversation with a large group of people in dispersed locations. That's why you need to make sure your phone system is fully functioning before you dial into the conference call. Nothing screams unprofessional more than an inability to manage your own company's logistics.
If you're looking for a new phone system, stick to the ones that offer up times of nearly 99.9%. That way, the chances of your call dropping will be essentially zero. Also, look for providers who offer HD voice to enhance the voice quality of the conversation. It will help eliminate the static that plagues conference calls.
2. Be Upfront About Call Disruptions
The ideal conference call should take place indoors in a quiet area. But if you're on the run, you may have to dial into conference calls from a remote location with background noise. It's key that you relay this information to the parties you're talking to:
Apologies for the noise. I'm standing out on the street near traffic. Let me know if it gets too bad.
If you fail to acknowledge the background noise, the people you're talking with may assume that something is wrong with their phone system, or the may think that you're being flat out disrespectful. By being upfront, you save everyone from scratching their heads.
3. Establish Who's Participating
It's important to know who will be participating in the conference call before you dial in. A call with two other employees requires a different amount of effort than a company-wide meeting does. So know who your audience is before you get on the call.
And make sure the other callers know who will be attending. It's a good idea to send out a Google Calendar invite to all participants so that everyone can get a sense of who's coming, along with the time, the date, and the estimated duration of the call. It's a common courtesy that translates into solid conference call etiquette. Consider this when you're chairing a conference call.
4. Supplement With Video
Most conference calls still take place with a desk phone, via voice alone. The lack of visual cues, such as body language, is perhaps the most significant barrier conference call participants encounter when trying to communicate effectively.
To counteract this, consider putting a camera on your team so that the people on the other end can get a visual sense of the conversation's flow. Use free video calling apps like Skype or the OnSIP app to stream video directly from your laptop.
5. Always Introduce Yourself (Or Be Introduced By Someone)
Giving your own introduction, or being introduced by another team member, is vital for a conference call to unfold without confusion. It's hard to identify a person just by his or her voice, and if it's not made clear who's speaking, the call will be muddled and unproductive. If someone else introduces you, make sure to at least say 'Hi', so that the other participants can hear what your voice sounds like.
Introductions are doubly important when you're conferencing with people you've never met. In that case, go around to everyone in your team, and allow each person to state his or her name and title and what interest they have in the upcoming discussion.
6. Speak Loudly and Clearly
Even the deepest of voices can be obscured during a conference call. When you speak, slow down the rhythm of your speech, take pauses, and most importantly, speak loudly when you talk into the speakerphone.
If you have a soft voice, sit as close to the phone as you can. And if this continues to be a problem, consider ordering a conferencing phone such as the ErisStation that comes with detachable microphones.
7. Account for Dead Air
Silence is fine during an in-person meeting, but on a conference call, the quietness can lead to confusion. If the air stays dead long enough, the participants may assume that the other side is having technical difficulties, or simply being unresponsive, perhaps even rude. If you're in a situation where a direct answer is forthcoming but not immediate, try to describe the actions you're taking:
I'm just logging into my email now. OK. Searching for Karen's email. Here it is. "Profits." You're right. It was 4.9% last year.
By narrating a small sequence of events, you can actively tell the other participants that you're still engaged in the call. And if that's not possible, politely say: "Let me think on it for a second." This kind of skillful management shows that you have superior conference call etiquette.
8. Save Specialized Conversations For Offline
If you're in a meeting with fifteen people, and you and another participant are dominating the discussion with a lengthy topic that holds significance only for the two of you, ask that person to have a follow up call with you after the conference call is over. Eating up the meeting's oxygen with a specialized topic wastes the time of everybody else on the conference call.
If you know you have to discuss a specialized topic with one of the participants, come prepared with a brief blurb on the matter, and then parlay the issue back to a later time ("Jim, let's take this offline").
9. Establish What Was Accomplished When Finished
When the conference call is coming to an end, reach a consensus with the other participants about what was achieved during the meeting. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page before signing off:
OK, so Hank. You're going to make the copies. Susan is going to research the GDP of Albania. I'll start writing the economic analysis.
10. Leave With a Goodbye
Always sign off from a conference call with a formal goodbye. It's a phone call after all, and you would do the same thing if you were talking to a person one-on-one. Even if you didn't say much, throw in a send off to make your presence felt.
Schedule another meeting if necessary. If you don't, at least establish what would warrant another call ("...when we finish the PowerPoint"). And lastly, follow through with any promises you made during the call. Email people who need to be emailed. Check the items that need to be checked.
With these tips in mind, you might be able to avoid a conference call like this: