Have you ever been on a conference call where people show up late, become a distraction by forgetting to put their phone on mute, or have sidebar conversations with others not on the call? We all know a few etiquette rules for at the dinner table, but what about etiquette protocol for conference calls?

Here are some guidelines you should strive to follow when attending a conference call:

  1. Keep track of conference call dates/times. Make sure you know when your conference call is, and be sure to keep the conference call number and pin handy so you are not scrambling to find it at the last minute. Your meeting reminder shouldn’t come from a call or email from someone who is on the meeting when you aren’t.
  2. Call in to the conference line a couple minutes early. Try to avoid being late, especially if you know you will have to contribute to the discussion. No one wants to be the reason why the conference call discussion is held up, because they are waiting for you to arrive.
  3. Mute your phone when you are not speaking. To help avoid distracting sounds, conversations, or noises that are not applicable to the conference call, the mute button can be your friend. Muting your phone will help you avoid embarrassing sighs, munching noises from eating your lunch, or other background noise.
  4. State your name before speaking. Since the conference call attendees are not all in the same room, it is important for others on the line to know who is speaking so that they can better understand the context of your comments. In some cases you may also want to state your role, company, or location after your name; this is most relevant when your conference call includes people from other groups or organizations that have never met you face-to-face.
  5. Be prepared to discuss the topic at hand. Like with all meetings, you should do a little prep work or jot down topics or questions that you would like to bring up on the conference call. After all, you want the meeting to be productive and not spawn other meetings because of lack of preparation.
  6. Keep background noise to a minimum. When you take your phone off mute to speak or to get ready to chime in, make sure that you are not distracting the other callers. This noise may be generated from standing outside in the wind, typing on your computer, kids running around, pets barking, side conversations with people in the office just to name a few. It is best to find a quiet location for the meeting.
  7. Pay attention! When you call in to a conference call there are a million distractions in front of you: emails in your inbox, coworkers asking questions, work piling up on your desk, office chat programs, etc. If someone asks you a question on a call and you don’t realize they are talking to you until the end of their question, it will be obvious that you weren’t paying attention. Don’t be the one who always has to ask the person to repeat their question, because SOMEBODY wasn’t paying attention.
  8. Maintain a good cell phone reception. A bad cell phone connection could cause static or make your voice beak up when you speak, making your input to the conference call hard to understand. Sometimes it can even lead to a dropped call, in which you have to call back into the meeting.
  9. Follow an agenda. An agenda should be provided before the conference call. Be sure to stay on topic (we will hold the leader of the call responsible for keeping everyone on track). If additional items need to be discussed that are unrelated to the reason of the conference call or items need to be discussed in greater detail than the time allots, take the conversation offline. You can call the individuals in which you need a further discussion with following the conference call.
  10. Define a clear leader. Every conference call should have a clear, defined leader. The leader should be the ones that emails out the agenda ahead of the call, directs the conversation, maks sure everyone sticks to the agenda, pays attention to time, and sends any follow up action item emails or additional meeting invites.
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