Conference calls don’t have to stink. It’s as simple as that.
Sure, you may still cringe when they’re mentioned during meetings, in emails or at the end of other conference calls. They’ll still irk you when they take up an hour or more on a busy afternoon. But you can learn to make them more manageable and even valuable, by following some simple conference call rules.
Here are nine etiquette tips that will save your next conference call:
1. Scout your location.
Don’t be the person taking conference calls from your desk. Nobody likes that person. Also, silence your cell phone before the call begins, and do what you can to control “background noise that could interfere with the call,” says Boston-based human resources executive Nancy Thomson. “You want to convey the impression that you take the call seriously and that the listeners have your full attention.”
2. Be professional.
It’s still a meeting, and you’re still trying to move a project forward or accomplish a business goal. Don’t start out looking at it as a waste of time. “You can learn something on every conference call,” says Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO, a global marketing and consulting firm. “The most boring conference call I’ve ever been on, I can learn something from if I wanted to and I can communicate something if I wanted to.”
3. Don’t play catch up.
If you want everyone else to pay attention, you’ll need to do the same thing. This means no using the call to catch up on work or respond to emails. “Your attention will turn to the email and away from the call,” Thomson says. If you can’t fight the temptation, Thomson recommends closing your email. “If documents need to go back and forth, it is easy enough to open it back up.”
4. Treat people (you can’t see) the way you’d like to be treated.
Yes, it may be tempting to roll your eyes at a co-worker in response to something said on the other end of the line, but you’d never do that in a face-to-face meeting. Conference calls shouldn’t be any different. “These days nothing really goes unnoticed,” says career consultant Jennifer Chandler. “By envisioning people can see you, you are less likely to engage in bad behavior.”
5. Time still matters.
The old adage still applies: If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late. If you’ve got a few extra minutes before the call begins, use the extra time to prep your team or have a pre-discussion addressing what you’d like everyone to cover during the call.
6. Don’t dine and discuss.
“If [you] set aside time to make a presentation, if it’s important enough to take people’s time to make the presentation, then you shouldn’t be eating lunch,” Stevens says. “You should be paying attention, looking for questions to ask, looking for reasons to object, looking for ideas to insert.”
7. Mute responsibly.
While normal etiquette may involve heavy use of your mute button, just know that it’s not for every call. “Muting so that you can talk to someone offline for long periods, do something else or generally zone out is rude and not a particularly good idea professionally. You never know when you’ll be asked a question,” says James Gasteen, CEO of Precursive, a resource management software company. “But in general, using mute when you’re not contributing is a courteous thing to do, as it reduces background noise on the call.”
8. Don’t be a call hog.
“The worst kinds of calls are those that are dominated by one overbearing individual who speaks without pausing. Here, you’ll need to be more assertive, politely but firmly asking if you can make a point,” Gasteen recommends. “Then it’s just a case of making your point confidently and succinctly.”
Make sure you recognize there are other people on the call. If you’re driving the conversation a little too much, take time to solicit responses. In all likelihood, people have ideas or feedback they’d love to discuss.
9. End the meeting when it’s over.
Sometimes conference calls can drag on and easily go over their allotted time. To avoid this, don’t be afraid to wrap up a call by saying, “I think we’re done here.” It’s just the respectful thing to do, Stevens says. “Someone might say, ‘hold up’ and ask a few more questions or clarify something. Or you might just break there and save a lot of time.”