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Surviving a Conference Call

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Conference calls. Almost every business professional has been there. And almost everyone hates them. How can you survive a conference call?

That’s the topic of a piece from the Wall Street Journal. Sue Shellenbarger writes:

Abuses are rife. People on the line interrupt others, zone out or multitask, forgetting to hit “mute” while talking to kids or slurping drinks.

Sales executive Erica Pearce has seen teleconferences interrupted by home FedEx deliveries, crying children and the sound of a co-worker vacuuming his house. “Nobody could hear,” she says of the cleaning. As leader of the meeting, she said into the phone, “If you’re vacuuming, I appreciate that, and you’re welcome to come to my house afterward. But you need to be on mute.”

Conference Calls

© Flickr user Kevin Lawler

You hate these things, I hate these things, but still they are everywhere. In fact, the article reports that “Time spent in audio conferences in the U.S. is expected to grow 9.6% a year through 2017, according to Wainhouse Research, a Boston market-research firm; about 65% of all conferencing is still done by audio calls.”

How can you make conference calls better? Much of the advice would actually make the experience more painful. For example:

To build relationships, Ms. Pearce takes time during the teleconferences she leads to have participants who don’t know each other introduce themselves, explain their roles in the project at hand and tell what they want out of the meeting, she says.

It’s already tough for people to introduce themselves succinctly in person. In a conference call (where there is a lack of nonverbal cues and even more people) this can drag on. Instead, the meeting organizer should read a list of participants, state their title, and give one sentence explaining why they are on this call.

Second: the organizers need to instruct everyone to break into the conversation or answer open questions with the words “This is Robby speaking.” That way, others know who is talking.

Third: A side channel is needed that is text-only. Pick any chat or instant messenger application; or if you are reviewing a document bring it up in a collaborative editor such as Google Docs. This channel should be used for brief interactions or questions that don’t need to interrupt the flow. It’s also the best place to make jokes, since everyone will see and hear them at the same time and with equal clarity.

There’s one more tip to running effective conference calls: don’t have them. Or, at least watch this video about them from the comedic minds of Tripp and Tyler:

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@LaceyEverett @thenerdherd @naptownbri @indystar Well, when the original source doesn’t answer the questions, people start to speculate. - 3 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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