Conference Call Etiquette: Making the Right Impression

Conference call etiquette is as important as conference room etiquette. Everyone knows that in a meeting with their colleagues, manager, or customer in the conference room, they need to pay attention, be polite, participate, and not do anything disruptive. The same holds true for conference calls.

Below is how you can insure you have good conference call etiquette during a teleconference so you and the other people on the call get the most from the conversation and so you project the same profession image you would if you were in a face-to-face meeting with a room full of important people.

  1. Be on time. No one likes latecomers, their late arrival disrupts the conversation and commonly someone needs to recap where the conversation is to get the person up to speed. Being late is one of the most egregious of all conference call etiquette faux pas.
  2. Do not participate in or listen in on a call unless you are officially invited. The presence of “mystery guests” or uninvited participants is the second biggest breach of conference call etiquette. Because no one can see who is around and listening to what they are saying, participants need to trust that they are only talking to the people they know they are supposed to be speaking with. Just as people might not talk to a customer the same way they would talk to the team or their boss, participants have to know who it is that is listening and talking so they can express themselves appropriately and speak as frankly or diplomatically as required. Trust on the part of all participants in a teleconference is a MUST and you need to respect that.
  3. Introduce yourself at the outset. Tell people (a) your name, so people will know who you are. (b) Your location, if you are in a different building or city or what your department is, so people can visually place you. (c) Your role: salesperson, accountant, public relations representative, so people know your expertise, what you do, and what you bring to the table. And, last but not least, (d) your reason for being the conversation: e.g., "to help solve our marketing problem" or "to learn about what the problem is and try and get the project back on schedule". Conference call etiquette requires that other people on the line know who they are taking to and why.
  4. Tell who you are each time you speak. Another important part of good conference call etiquette is to remind other participants of who you are when you have something to say. Unless the conference call host has already called you by name, when you speak you should mention your name and something else about you to help people remember you (e.g., "This is John in sales and I feel that…." or "This is Simone in London, my perspective is…").

By following these four rules for good conference call etiquette, you will improve the effectiveness of any call you participate in, as well as project the kind of image you want the other people on the line to take home and remember you by. Common pitfalls that too many of us have experienced and that you need to avoid are discussed in our next blog.

Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 2

Given the demands of the modern business climate and our fast-paced 24/7 society, sometimes you just can't control where you are when you have to attend a scheduled conference call. Here are important tips to let you maximize your effectiveness and cause the least disruption when you can't be in the best of locations for that all important teleconference.

  1. If you're on the road and must use a cell phone, find a place where your signal is strong and pull over and don't move the car until the call is over.
  2. If you are in an airport, find a bank of land-line phones and handle your call from there. That way, if the phone you are on is having problems, you can switch to another one in the matter of a minute or less.
  3. Use the mute button on your phone or the teleconferencing mute function to mute your line when you are not talking. It is best to eliminate the sound coming from your phone voice transmitter unless you are speaking. Using the mute eliminates any distracting background sounds from the place you are calling from or that you might make inadvertently. The only time you need to be heard is when you are speaking.
  4. Do not use your phone in speakerphone mode unless there are other people in the room that need to be in on the conversation. Speakerphones pick up all kinds of extraneous noise and have bad sound quality. Also, if you are in a room with others and sitting far from the phone, be sure to speak loud enough to be heard. This is particularly true for men. Men's voices tend to be lower in frequency than women's voices and not carry as well when there is background noise.
  5. Also, if you are in a teleconference where a number of people are in the same phone and you are speaking over a speakerphone, make sure not to carry on any side conversations during the call. No matter how quietly you think you are talking or whispering, other people in the room and on the conference call will likely hear what you are saying.

Conference Calling: The Hardware Makes All the Difference – Part 1

Good conference call etiquette requires not only that, as a participant, you comport yourself in the discussion in a professional manner, but also that you show you're a pro by not being the cause of any unnecessary hardware disruptions. You can always control your own behavior, but what about that of the equipment you're using?

In terms of hardware, there are always going to be things that are out of your control. You may not always be able to be alone in a nice quiet office with the door closed, you might have to be on travel, your phone might be on the fritz, or you might be in a large group clustered around a speakerphone.

Whatever the case, with some thought and knowing what the most likely problems are, you can minimize a lot of the distractions on a conference call that come from what you're using, as opposed to what you're saying or how you're saying it. Below are two things to keep in mind for your next teleconference.

If at all possible use a telephone with a land line, not a cordless phone, cell phone, or computer telephony (i.e., a phone that used Voice Over IP). The reason for this is that a land-line telephone has the highest quality sound with the least amount of static, cutting in and out, latency, jitter, echo, or other issues that degrade voice quality and the ability of others on the call to understand you. You can't leave a good impression if your phone is the one causing a lot of technical problems for the group.

If you get a bad connection, tell the host you're going to hang up and call in again to see if you can get a better connection. Nine times out of ten, this corrects any problems. Nothing is more annoying or distracting than to be stuck in an hour long teleconference when one person's phone is generating a lot of static or when there is an echo every time you speak.

Group Communication Options: What's Out There and Why

Not so long ago, there was only US mail and the telephone for people who needed to stay in touch. But in the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in the numbers and types of communications tools that can be used to keep your team together and keep important stakeholders informed of project and/or company progress.

Many still revolve around the land-line telephone because it is such a universal installation. But as computers and wireless installations have become increasingly more prevalent, communications technology that uses these platforms have entered and revolutionized the field.

The ability of these more recent platforms to let people share graphics in real time and the ability, of some, to allow that all important "face-to-face" type of meeting is dramatically changing how some businesses communicate, boosting their productivity, and dramatically cutting costs.

Due to the newness of some technologies, there can be reliability and interface issues that still need improvement, but the rapid rate of technology advancement and provider innovation is quickly eliminating these issues.

Some of these technologies include: classical and suped-up conference calls and videoconferencing; podcasts; webinars; Instant Messaging, just to name a few.

Preferred Modes of Communication: Identifying the Right Media

Once you and your team have produced your list of people for your communication plan, gotten everyone's phone number and email, and listed their role, there is one more thing that needs to be done. Add each person's preferred mode of communication to the list. This is one of the most crucial, but commonly overlooked, elements of a good communication plan. Different people have different ways they like to communicate and the more you respect that, the better off you and your project are going to be.

Some people are at their computers all day and constantly check their email, others travel a lot and you can catch them only on their cell phone, others prefer office phone calls, and still others only respond if you talk with them face-to-face. Not using a person’s preferred mode of communication means you may not get the information or feedback you need when you need it. This can prevent you from being able to effectively make a required quick decision or stave off an impending crisis.
In today's workplace, adequate communication is difficult because many times not all the people in your communications loop work in the same building or city or state, and some don’t even work the same hours. Once you know how you need to communicate to the people identified on your communications plan, you then need to identify which of the many available communications tool are best suited for your team/company and how they work.

Strategic Communications: Tools – No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

If you have never seen or put together a communications plan before, the uncertainty of not knowing what it should contain, how it should look, and what other people might be expecting to see can be paralyzing. As a result, a lot people stop after the exercise of identifying who should be on the list and what those people need to know, never actually completing an actual full blown plan. Because communication is so important to business and/or project success, don’t let this happen to you!

For almost anything in business or government, and that goes for communication plans too, there are books, tools, examples, freeware, and professional software packages for just about anything you want to do. The Internet has all kinds of sample communication plans that come with extensive descriptions of what they need to contain and what they look like that you can copy and download for free.

To find one of these, just use any major Internet search engine and type in: "project management, communications plan" and a host of sites will appear. Many of these have forms you can copy or download and use right away. Even if you have never written or even seen a communications plan before, within minutes you can be filling out a professional looking and organized communications plan.

Strategic Communications: Who Needs To Know What When Part II

When you forget or omit an important communications link and have a breakdown in communication, problems occur; and sometimes they are so big they take an entire project down; and everyone loses.

So how can you stop this from happening? Well, nothing can ever be completely avoided, but you can minimize the possibility of a major communications breakdown by generating a communications plan spreadsheet that lists all of the tasks and associated deliverables and who is responsible for them.

Your spreadsheet should also include who is to receive whatever product that task produces, whether that be an invoice generated by your accounting department, a status report for your upper management or a regulatory agency, a software tool to automate a piece of equipment in your company’s chemical plant, or a highway overpass for your customer.

In addition, your document should indicate who needs to approve the deliverable and how frequently along the way that person needs to be kept informed on its progress. Such a matrix of tasks, people, and frequencies of communication helps keep you focused and keeps you from forgetting who has to know what when and prevents you from tiring out your key people by spamming them unnecessarily.

Strategic communication will be your key to success!

Strategic Communications: Who Needs to Know What When

For any project, the most important part and, indeed, the area almost always identified by project managers and management as needing improvement is communication.

Communication between team members, communication between the billing department and suppliers or subcontractors, communication between upper management and the project team, communication between management and outside stakeholders, communication between the construction bosses and inspectors, communications between your company and the surrounding community… name it.

Communication to all major stakeholders not only keeps people up to date on your project's or company's progress, but it also helps create that all important buy-in and ownership of project or company decisions.

Just remember however that, although communication is your key to success, no one likes to be spammed continuously with information they don't care about or need to know. Indiscriminant communication not only irritates those receiving it, but can also dilute your ability to get what you need from people when you need it, because they no longer read what you send them because so much of it has nothing to do with them. So, after you make that extensive, team-generated, communications list, sit down and look at it (with the team), think collectively about the risks of one person or another not knowing something important and the impact it could have on your project, and then prioritize the people on that list.

This will help you and your team to identify who has the capability and highest probability of wreaking the most havoc on your project if they are not adequately informed. Sometimes the results of this kind of analysis can be quite surprising and you find people you might not have thought would have such a huge impact as they do!

You will also find that some of the people on the list you thought might be important are less critical than you initially thought. Obviously, keeping the highest priority people informed of the project, its status, progress, and problems is going to be your project's or company's key to success.

Strategic Communications: The Key to Project and Business Success

How many times have you or your team been involved in a project, no matter what the size, and had someone come out of the blue or get some unexpected bad news at the last minute which puts your project, all your hard work, and careful planning in jeopardy?

Chances are you forgot to put a key person in the information loop. This person could be as big as the CEO of the company or as seemingly insignificant as the kid in the mail room.

Unwittingly leaving a key person in the dark is a classic and chronic problem faced by all managers and project teams. One way to overcome this problem is to leave nothing to chance and develop a communications plan……and put it in writing! But don't just do this in a vacuum because one person is never able to think of all the people that might need to be put in the loop.

A good communications plan is a team effort. Different people know different parts of a project or problem. It never fails that each person on the team will come up with different contacts that they know who have critical information that you will need. Sometimes these people can help you or can come out of left field and kill your efforts for one reason or another. It is important to keep these contacts in the communications loop and use their collective knowledge for your project's success.

Putting together the master list and prioritizing the people on it is the next step. We'll talk about that in our next blog post.

A Brief History of Telecommunications (Abridged)

We've come a long way from smoke signals and drums, the earliest forms of telecommunication. Today's telecommunication industry uses electromagnetic waves and electronic transmitters to connect people. Connections are still made by sight or hearing, but telephone, television, radio, computers and satellites now allow the message to travel around the world, even out into space, and to be received almost instantly.

Did the men who invented modern telecommunications -- Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Guglielmo Marconi (radio), John Logie Baird (television) – realize how profoundly they would change the world? Today, the telecommunication industry is a significant factor in world economy, generating 3% of the gross world product. Figures for 2006 place industry revenue at $1.2 trillion and rising.

Highlights, interesting facts and a few near misses in telecommunications history:

  • 1837 Samuel Morse develops the electrical telegraph and signaling system. Embarrassingly, he couldn't get it to work during the unveiling demonstration!
  • 1849 Antonio Meucci invents the first device to electronically transmit the human voice (i.e., phone). It flopped because to hear, users had to put the receiver in their mouth.
  • 1866 First transatlantic telecommunication is made.
  • 1876 Alexander Bell and Elisha Gray independently invent the telephone. Although Gray filed his patent application first, bad legal advice and a clerical error led him to withdraw his application and the patent was awarded to Bell.
  • 1878 First commercial telephone service set up in New Haven, Connecticut (home of Yale University) and the following year in London.
  • 1901 Guglielmo Marconi positions himself to win the 1909 Nobel Prize in physics by inventing a working wireless radio that functions between Canada and England.
  • 1925 John Baird demonstrates the transmission of moving pictures at Selfridges, a London department store which conveniently sells couches.
  • 1929 The BBC makes the first experimental TV broadcast.
  • 1940 George Stibitz makes the first computer transmission using a mainframe system and remote terminals. Mammoth mainframes dominate the emerging industry through the next two decades.
  • 1960 Computer geeks start experimenting with packet switching, bypassing the mainframe to send large packets of data directly to different computers.
  • 1969 The first network – just 4 modes – is in operation.
  • 1970 Scientists at Corning Glass Works produce the first viable optical fiber, ushering in a new era in telecommunications and enabling the internet.
  • 1978 The first international packet switched network connects the U.S. and Europe.
  • 1989 While working for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau invent the web.
  • 1990 Fledgling micro-networks slowly merge to become the behemoth that today we call the “net.”

No longer an infant, telecommunications has hit its teen years and like a teenager is growing by leaps and bounds. A chronology of the discoveries and achievements of the past 15 years would fill pages. Today the path from discovery to implementation and production moves literally at the speed of light.

Telecommunications have enabled companies to build global empires, just look at Amazon and Wal-Mart, two outstanding examples. It is now possible to do face-to-face business with customers all over the world while sitting at your office desk. When you must travel, telecommunications allows you to stay connected to your home office and instantly resolve customer issues. With telecommunications, employees can remain an integral part of your business team while working from home when personal or family matters demand their attention.

It's been less than 100 years since Samuel Morse first pressed down on a telegraph key. It's only taken 15 years for the internet to change life as we know it. Can you imagine where we'll be 15 years from now? Buckle up! We're in for an amazing ride!