Just as meetings have rules for proper etiquette, so do conferences calls. Following these rules makes you appear professional and polite, but breaking them can be just as damaging to your reputation as showing disrespect in person.
Conference call etiquette is like a cross between how you should behave on a phone and in a meeting, but a little trickier. Gone are the days when professionals would gather around a speakerphone in a conference room and talk long distance to another group of people around a speakerphone. Today, that old-fashioned model could get you in trouble.
Conference calls have evolved into highly sophisticated audiovisual experiences that require the right technology to pull off. Because of time zones, equipment needed and the sheer hassle it can be to get all of the right people in the same room for a call, there’s a higher premium on time spent in the call. Because of that, it’s extremely important to comport oneself in a manner befitting the reality of the situation.
One of the biggest issues to remember is that no one likes background noise. Never attend a conference call while you’re in a busy coffee shop where everyone on the call gets to hear coffee being ground and the CD of the week played over and over. You wouldn’t have a business meeting in a loud environment, so don’t place yourself in a loud environment while on a conference call. This is the main reason why having people standing around a speakerphone is also a huge etiquette violation. Speakerphones pick up all types of extra noises: paper shuffling, chair squeaking and traffic just to name a few. Instead, go to your office and wear a headset. Keep the mute button on when you’re not speaking. When the call begins, introduce yourself even if it’s not the first time you’ve spoken. Not everyone is going to recognize your voice.
Just as you would in a meeting, listen to everyone and don’t talk while someone else is talking. This is more challenging on a phone than in person because you can’t see when people open their mouths. Taking that extra second to unmute your headset or phone reduces the chances of you talking over someone. It’s also expected that people on a call will be concise and to the point. Conference calls are not gab sessions with friends.
Although it’s polite to begin a call as you would a meeting by introducing everyone, including new people who may join late, and stating the objective of the call, small talk isn’t appropriate. You can shmooze on your own time. If you are the person who set up the call, send out an agenda beforehand for everyone to follow and then stick to it. Politely but firmly guide people back on track if the call starts to wander. Everyone has somewhere else to be, so everyone appreciates a call that finishes as quickly as possible. If you didn’t organize the call, it’s better to allow the facilitator to rein people in so you’re not seen as impolite or bossy.
Never schedule a conference call during lunchtime. People don’t want to hear you eat. Even with a mute function, there’s still a chance you may try to jump in with what you think is a crucial point while your mouth is full. Choking on a sandwich during a call is unprofessional.
Always be sure that you call from a phone with a good connection. Being in a bad area for cell reception isn’t an acceptable excuse for static unless the call is last minute. If you’re having a hard time hearing people, they’re having a hard time hearing you. An iffy connection also means you may drop the call and have to call back, which interrupts everyone else as you jump back on. It’s customary for people to say who they are when they join a call, so if your cellphone keeps dumping the call and you keep coming back, everyone will know you were the person not professional enough to use a landline.
Following some simple rules for conference call etiquette makes the process smoother and more enjoyable. Your co-workers and business associates will appreciate the effort.