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The unwritten rules of conference call etiquette

Apr 03, 2018
It’s all very well knowing how to behave appropriately in face-to-face situations, but how can etiquette be used to improve performance when you can’t see who you’re speaking to?
The conference call by its very nature can be a stilted, awkward experience. Trying to conduct a professional and productive conversation can be challenging when you can’t see the people you’re talking to. There are often background noises on the line and those on the call have no non-verbal cues to rely on, such as facial expressions, which can make it difficult to communicate effectively.
Here are some conference call etiquette tips to keep in mind:

Test your systems

Fix any technical problems before the call. Dropping a call can be very annoying, especially if you’re having a conversation with a number of people, all in different locations. Test your phone system in advance to ensure that it’s working before you dial into a conference call, and make sure you’re familiar with your company’s logistics. If conference calls are a regular part of your business life, it may be worth asking your network providers to enhance your system by providing HD voice, which will improve the voice quality of your conversations. This will also eliminate the static that can often plague conference calls.

Acknowledge the noise

Let people know if you’re in a noisy location. Ideally, it’s best to have a quiet location for the conference call but with travel being so common for many jobs, you may have to dial into a conference call from a busy, noisy location such as an airport or even while stuck in traffic. If you’re faced with this situation, be upfront and explain in advance that you’re in a busy location.

Provide context

Let people know what to expect. If you’re organising or chairing a conference call, send out a calendar invite to all participants so everyone can get a sense of who will be on the call. Also, include details of the date and time the call will take place and, very importantly, provide details of the estimated duration of the call. While this may seem like common business practice, employing this approach translates into strong conference call etiquette.

Make yourself known

Introduce yourself at the start of the call. It’s good etiquette to start the call by introducing yourself, or by being introduced by someone. When there are numerous people on a conference call, it can be difficult to identify who is speaking. Introduce yourself clearly so that the other participants can hear what your voice sounds like. It will make the call flow a lot more smoothly and will help participants to be clear on who is saying what.

Speak out

Articulate clearly. Be conscious of how you speak – if you have a soft voice, be sure to speak clearly and loudly into the phone to ensure that you are heard. Be careful to slow down the rhythm of your speech and take pauses. In my experience, Irish people speak quite quickly and it can be difficult to understand exactly what the person has said – particularly if people from different countries are involved in the call.

Fill the void

Fill in the silence. Long pauses or periods of silence during a conference call can lead to confusion. The other people on the call may assume that there are technical difficulties, or that you are unresponsive. If you need to leave the conversation for a moment, whether it’s to find a file or check a previous correspondence, it’s a good idea to manage the situation by, for instance, saying that you are “thinking about that for a moment”. Displaying skilful handling of the situation translates to good conference call etiquette.

Stay on topic

Keep the conversation relevant. If you’re on a conference call with a large group of people, a conversation between two callers can sometimes take over the discussion with a topic that isn’t relevant to anyone else. Be cognisant of situations like this and don’t waste everyone’s time. Suggest that those in the conversation have a follow-up call afterwards – a suggestion that will be appreciated by everyone else.
Orla Brosnan is CEO of the Etiquette School of Ireland.