Remember: Conference Call Mute Is Never On

It is an inevitable thing that is going to happen on conference call. Someone is going to forget to mute their phone. There are a million stories out there of how people have heard bathroom visits, ordering fast food, or worse. These interruptions are embarrassing, not only for the person responsible, but also for the host of the conference call.

Most conference hosts are diligent about putting the call into lecture mode and participants usually try to mute their conference lines. This doesn’t always happen.

Once, as an operator on a conference, I had the pleasure of dealing with a client who was going to have some high profile people on their conference. The client expressed to me that it was important that there were no back ground interruptions on the call. I explained that all the participants would be muted, but since there would be about seven people on with the special speaker code, those lines wouldn’t be muted. I suggested they use our star feature to mute the call and even had everyone test out the function to make sure the feature worked.

Inevitably, when the call started and one of the high profile guests was speaking, my client’s line was not muted and I suddenly heard the announcement that train #356 to Boston would be departing in five minutes. Having been on a number of operator conferences, I made the decision to mute his line, in order to avoid that playing over these high profile guests. It made me uneasy to have to do that – but I couldn’t risk his conference being interrupted, and this is the exact reason why people elect to have operators on their conference.

Audio conferences can be tricky. They aren’t necessarily hard to participate in but there are a lot of things to remember, and sometimes – it’s the simplest things that we can forget about.

It brings up a great point about being on a conference – always assume your line is not muted, even when it is. Even when you are certain you’ve muted your phone, or you just got the message that your line was muted, you never know when something could happen to unmute. What if your moderator accidentally turns off the feature or you’re disciplining one of your kids, across the room from your phone, and the moderator suddenly opens the lines up for questions.

In an instant the entire conference hears you explaining to your children why chocolate frosting is not an appropriate substitute for paint.

Always assume that your line is live – and it’s a good rule that can apply to audio conferences or video. Assuming that you’re on video will save you from possible embarrassment.

How are you managing on your conference calls? Are you assuming that mute is on, or are you doing things the same way that you would with a conference that was live?

Tell me your embarrassing moment in the comments – and if yours is the one that inspires the deepest shade of red, you’ll win a prize. (Details to come) I look forward to hearing your stories!

Turn Off Call Waiting and Other Tips

Attention to detail can make a world of difference. In a conference call, looking after the little details before and during can turn a good conference great, or at least keep it from going bad. There’s a list of 33 conference call tips from Corbin Ball that I recently read. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Call Waiting - On certain phones, the call waiting beep can be heard by the audience. And it’s especially annoying to the rest of the participants if you’re popular. Find out if your phone does this--usually the older landline models--and learn how to temporarily turn it off.

Identify Yourself - You can’t see your participants and they can’t see you--unless you’ve integrated the call with a video conference of course. Encourage everyone to say their name before speaking.

Identify Them - You’ve said your name, now say who you’re addressing. In a conversational or meeting type of conference call, it’s usually better to address a person than the group at large. So say your name, then say their name, then speak your piece.

Help Hotline - Unless you’re out-dialing, you have to distribute the dial-in number and conference code before a conference call. And even with out-dialing, you should make sure all participants have an external way to reach you--phone, fax, email, chat, carrier pigeon, etc--in case of any connection issues.

Rules at the Front - Even with old pros, it’s good to announce rules and basic etiquette at the beginning of a conference call. Some things to cover include identifying yourself and others, muting policy, time limits, pausing for rebuttals, no interrupting, and nice things like that.

Plus, it’s more genteel to do it at the beginning than to correct transgressions as they happen. So those are the tips that I thought were important enough to highlight. Which ones are your favorites? Have any tips you think should be on the list?