10 Conference Call Etiquette Tips to Make Your Meetings More Productive

By Mike Taylor

Ah, conference calls. They have the ability to make meetings so much more convenient, but like any technology, conference calls come with a certain amount of “learning pains.” After all, it takes a while to adjust to new ways of doing things – especially when technology is involved.

For businesses, conference calls can be much the same. Anyone who’s ever been on a conference call knows just how badly they can go (and boy can they go badly). If you’ve not seen the video “A Conference Call in Real Life” by Tripp and Tyler, it’s a comical take on meetings via conference calls. 

Just getting everyone in the conference call at all can prove to be a chore. Phones lose reception. People get distracted. There’s the person who forgets to mute themselves, leaving everyone vulnerable to a barrage of barking dogs in the background. And we’ve all experienced the weird sounds (heavy breathing, wind from a car window, buzzing, you name it!) that seem to come from nowhere and that no one will claim as being the source.

I think we can all agree, conference calls can be hilariously frustrating.

As humorous as bad conference calls can be, they’re a huge drain on time and productivity. If you want to respect the time of all parties involved, and keep your company or organization productive, a little conference call etiquette can go a long way.

So here are 10 conference call etiquette tips to keep your conference calls smooth and productive. (Our own Digium team ranted about a few of our conference call pet peeves in this edition of UC Tech Chat.) 

1. Watch the clock and make good use of everyone’s time

When you schedule a conference call, set strict time limits and stick to them. That’s not to say calls can’t or won’t occasionally go over, but it’s important to make a sincere effort to respect everyone’s time. Not only do people lose focus when conference calls drag on, but they also have to adjust the rest of their schedule accordingly, potentially throwing off their agenda. Be respectful and watch the clock.

2. Define “To-Dos” with deadlines and who owns them

Conference calls have a tendency to be slightly less formal and structured than in-person meetings. As a result, it’s easy to drift into an hour-long conversation about a particular topic and come out of it with little to no action items. If you want to really improve productivity and the overall effectiveness of your conference calls, make defining action items a priority. Be sure to give them specific assignees, deadlines, and deliverables.

3. Have an agenda, clear objectives, and role expectations

Agendas are important for meetings in general, but they’re an absolute must for conference calls. Knowing who’s leading the meeting, what needs to be accomplished by the end of the call, and who else is contributing are all key factors to making sure your conference call doesn’t turn into an obscure brainstorming session. That leads to the next point.

4. Stay on topic

We’ve all been in meetings where you come to talk about one thing, then an interesting point comes up that the group wants to explore further, and a half-hour later you’ve gone down a long rabbit hole and yet to come back to the original purpose of the meeting.

Elaboration is necessary. Debates are bound to happen. These are natural and conducive elements of good meetings, as long as they aren’t taken too far.

Don’t let your meetings get hijacked by off-topic discussions. Dive deeper on points when necessary, but always keep the underlying goal of the meeting in mind and make a point to schedule discussions around other topics that come up along the way.

5. Always introduce all participants

One awkward aspect of conference calls is the inability to see participants. Without introducing everyone on the call before the meeting starts, it can be difficult to keep up with who’s on the line and who isn’t. This gets even more awkward during sales calls and others that involve several parties that may or may not be formally introduces.

Eliminate the possibility of referring to someone in third person when they’re actually in the meeting and the awkwardness of being on a call with people you don’t know by making introductions and properly identifying everyone on the call before it begins.

6. Use a screen sharing application

When you’re referencing a document, it’s best to use a screen sharing application like Join.me or Appear.in so everyone can see exactly what you’re referring to.

Cloud applications like Google Drive and Dropbox make it tempting to simply let everyone in a conference call access the document themselves, but that only adds unnecessary confusion. When you go that route, you have to make sure everyone’s looking at the same document, is on the same page, and can find particular aspects of the document you’re referencing.

In the end, file sharing in a real-time setting such as a conference call ultimately cause more confusion than it’s worth. Avoid the friction and use a screen sharing application.

7. Use visual aids

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people retain 65% of information from a visual and oral presentation and only 10% of what they heard from an oral presentation.

When you use visual aids, be sure to number and clarify all slides used in your presentation. This helps when either you or someone else on the call references one of your slides. It can get confusing to explain which slide you’re looking at, and sometimes the confusion can throw off the momentum of a meeting.

So use visual aids in your conference calls to keep everyone engaged, but be sure to organize and label your visual aids in a way that makes them easy to reference during a discussion.

8. Pay attention

No one likes talking to someone who is preoccupied or only halfway paying attention. Plus, it’s embarrassing to be called on in a meeting when you don’t know what’s going on. Everyone’s busy, but it’s important to make sure that when you’re on a conference call you take steps to eliminate distractions.

Put your phone on “do not disturb” mode or simply turn it off during the meeting. Don’t fall into the trap of checking your email. No matter how casual it may seem, you’ll be tempted to respond to something you see, and just like that, your mind checks out.

If the topic of the conference call requires you being at your computer (as it most often does), try closing out all apps that may send distracting notifications.

Most importantly, practice exercising some good old fashioned self-control during meetings. You and the other people on the conference call will appreciate your full attention (and you won’t get embarrassed for not knowing what’s going on).

9. If leaving during a conference call, state you are leaving

It’s extremely frustrating to be on a conference call and pose a question to someone you think is on the line, only to be met with silence. You don’t know how long they’ve been gone or if they missed the entire conversation. Now you have to fill them in on what’s going on before you can even get their input on the topic.

Announcing when you’re leaving gives everyone on the call the opportunity to ask any final questions or make any final comments before you leave. It also prevents them from feeling the frustration of talking to someone who is no longer on the line.

10. Use Unified Communications solutions to your advantage

Unified Communications solutions are basically phone systems with advanced applications for things like chat, conferencing, presence indicators, and much, much more. These Unified Communication (called “UC”) solutions have made inter-office communication much easier, and they can help tremendously with conference calls.

Aside from the actual conference call capabilities of UC solutions (which they make extremely easy), UC solutions also give you the ability to set your phone and chat status to “In a Meeting,” minimizing distractions and improving communication with co-workers. This tells everyone what you’re doing, and signals that you’re not to be disturbed unless it’s completely necessary.

Next Steps

Want to see what all a Unified Communications solution can do for your business? See why industry experts say now is the time for businesses to invest in Unified Communications. Download the free eBook now.


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About the Author

Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor was the former Content Marketing Specialist at Digium. He’s a small business and entrepreneurial enthusiast, and before joining Digium he spent years helping startups and businesses of all sizes grow using content and digital marketing strategies. He covered business and communication topics on Digium’s blog and on other business publications as well.

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