Business conference calls can be a lawless territory. Sure, there are a few established rules that most people adhere to, but much of the time, calls can go in all sorts of directions that leave people confused, frustrated, awkward, and feeling like their time was wasted. Conference calls are more efficient when participants are considerate of one another and stay on task. How can you be an example for everyone else, though? Here are a few etiquette tips for your next conference call that make you respectable and the meeting more productive:
First and foremost, be on time to the call. This is your first impression, especially if you have not met everyone on the call in-person before. Someone being late can affect the mood of the entire meeting; now everyone is grumpy, and they may feel like you don’t respect their time. Virtual meetings can also take several minutes to get started as people adjust their technology anyway, so it’s best not to delay things any longer.
While on the subject of time, if you are the leader of your meeting, keep the call itself punctual. Everyone has busy calendars, so make sure that the call ends when it’s scheduled to (even if you haven’t covered everything). Again, it’s a matter of respect. If the meeting was supposed to be from 2 pm to 3 pm, then it ends at 3 pm.
Introduce yourself and other speakers
If you’re speaking to people you have not met before, always introduce yourself. It’s a practical idea for the call’s leader to do roll call at the beginning so that everyone knows who is tuned in, especially if it’s not a video conference where participants’ names are listed. During the meeting itself, mention who you are before you are about to speak, and introduce your colleagues if you are about to hand the hypothetical speaking baton over to them. It can be difficult to distinguish people by only their voices, so making a quick announcement, “Hi everyone, this is…”, helps avoid confusion that slows the call down.
Eliminate noise distractions
This one should be a given, but do not just limit, but eliminate noise distractions. Always keep your microphone muted when it is not your turn to speak. When it is, make sure that there are as little additional sounds as possible: station yourself in a room away from children, pets, traffic sounds, and do not eat or drink anything. If you are on the go and have no choice but to take the call while in public, it’s courteous to inform other callers of your situation and ask them to notify you if the sound becomes unbearable or no one can understand you. Use a conference call service with sound features and quality software to prevent feedback everyone else can hear.
On the other hand, avoid silence. Pausing during an in-person meeting is fine because everyone has visual cues, but awkward silence during a conference call leaves people confused about whose turn it is to speak, if you were finished at all, or if you are having technical difficulties. Should a situation arise where you do not have a direct answer, narrate what you are doing, such as, “I’m checking the message you sent,” or “I’m logging into my account right now.”
Close your tabs before the meeting begins
In a video conference call that involved screen sharing, close or hide all irrelevant tabs before the meeting begins. If everyone is looking at your desktop with your innumerable tabs still open, it’s distracting—and you may not want people do see what you were doing online (such as googling silly questions or leaving confidential information out in the open). Your image will also look more professional and organized.
It’s good etiquette to be as engaging as possible. Neglecting to do so is not exactly rude, per se, but people will certainly appreciate you speaking with an authoritative, animated voice to keep their interest. Who wants to listen to a conference call where the speakers talk monotonously? People will grow bored quickly, and it actually makes the meeting less productive.
On a related note, save one-on-one conversations for later. Do not make five other people listen to a conversation that is just between you and one other person. You might have them on the line, but it’s better to schedule another opportunity privately than waste everyone else’s time.
Make sure everyone leaves with something
People had to put aside time for this conference call, so it’s respectful to make sure that everyone leaves feeling having accomplished something and knows what to do next. Calls can be inconvenient, but you prove that it was necessary if everyone hangs up with a clearer idea of what their responsibilities are.
Conference call etiquette is ill-defined, but there are a few practices that are polite, practical, and make the meeting flow better. What are some of your conference call etiquette tips?