"Conference call in the family room in 5, people." Have you ever read an email like this and rolled your eyes, dreading the myriad annoyances that are collectively associated with conference calls? "Why do we call it a family room when we can't stand one another?" you might wonder. In the office world, many of our daily frustrations, pet peeves and discordant moments revolve around communication. In order for your office to become more like a family, you must all observe proper etiquette in your communications, whether your mode be instant messaging, email, phone call or conference call. For now, let's focus on the conference call.
- When it comes to speaker phones, the mute button is your friend. We all have sympathy for someone with a bad cold, but honestly, conversations become irritating when interrupted constantly by sneezing, coughing and nose-blowing. Unfortunately, we are not noiseless creatures by nature, and it takes far less than a coughing fit to disrupt a conference call. Conference call technology often renders it impossible for sound to be transmitted or received simultaneously by the two parties. What often happens is dialogue that cuts out completely every time someone sneezes or clears his throat.
Many conference calls involve an "information dump" portion, in which one person speaks for a lengthy period of time. During this time, the receiving end should press the mute button. When it comes time for one of them to speak, they simply have to press the mute button once more.
- Coughing and sneezing fits. If you are experiencing one of the aforementioned episodes, it's best to either mute your headset (if you are participating separately) or leave the conference room until your fit subsides.
- Participate in your conference call from a quiet location. If you have a door, then shut it during the call. This rule of etiquette benefits not only the other participants in the conference call, but also those around you who do not want to hear a partial or whole conversation that doesn't involve them.
- Introduce the parties at the beginning. All participants should be introduced by call leaders at the beginning of the conference call.
- Offer a brief introduction of yourself before speaking in a conference call. Don't assume that you are a known entity when chiming in, even if you were introduced at the beginning of the call.
- If on the computer, invest in a headset. A growing number of conference calls occur through computers. Unfortunately, the use of a computer's microphone and speaker can create echoes and incoherence. A good headset eliminates those obstacles and provides a smooth conference call experience.
- Give your equipment a test run before an important conference call. It's far better to notice technical problems before a conversation than to discover them during the event.
- Stay away from cell phones. Though cell phones can be used in conference calls, their use often generates static and auditory disturbance. If you have a choice, don't use a cell phone.
- Map out an agenda for the call. If you are leading the conference call, it is your responsibility to devise and adhere to an agenda. Let everyone know ahead of time how long they can expect the conference call to last. Follow through on that promise by carefully dividing your time between the relevant topics.
- Be concise. As in any meeting, unnecessarily long-winded monologues can make your audience fidget, look compulsively at clocks and maybe fall asleep (and if they pressed "mute," you would never know). Out of respect for everyone's time (which is always scarce), embrace brevity.
- Punctuality. Even if you don't plan to participate actively in a conference call, you must be on time so as not to rudely interrupt the flow of a conversation. And punctuality is even more important for the person leading a conference call. If you are that person, then you should arrive a few minutes before everyone else; as the organizer, proper etiquette dictates that you ensure all parties on your end have been introduced and are prepared for the call to begin.
- Don't interrupt. In a conference call, each of us sometimes feels the pressure to interrupt. When we have a good point to make, but feel the conversation slipping toward a different focus, we sometimes decide that interrupting is the only way to deliver our point without it seeming irrelevant. But when we interrupt others, we are not acting in accordance with etiquette. Interrupting can unintentionally convey a lack of respect in any conversation, and should be avoided.
Consideration of others is the fundamental guide to achieving proper etiquette in a conference call. Everyone wants to know who's talking at any given moment. Everyone wants the call to end on time (or so we would hope). All of us want to be able to hear what is said and be heard when we in turn speak. Do your part to advance a spirit of friendliness and respect in the office, and those conference calls in the family room will be less dreaded in no time.