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7 reasons why you’re ruining conference calls for everyone else

From showing up late to not testing the software properly.

7 reasons why you’re ruining conference calls for everyone else
[Photo: Hassan OUAJBIR/Unsplash]

Every year, I waste 1,440 minutes. As much as I try to avoid it, come December 31, I’ve sacrificed about 24 hours or three full business days. And that’s just me. If you add my 24 colleagues, my small business is losing 33,000 minutes–or two and a half months of work time–every single year.

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The culprit is conference calls. The exasperation we’ve all experienced with this medium is why videos like “A Conference Call in Real Life” have gone spectacularly viral. You may have also seen that 10-year-old FedEx golf commercial or this regrettably relatable scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Sometimes, the blame lies with the person on the other end. But other times, you’re the one responsible. Here are seven ways you might be inadvertently ruining conference calls for everyone else.

1. You’re constantly late

When you don’t prioritize punctuality, the message you’re broadcasting to others is that your time is more important than their time.

Take a step back and consider the scenario surrounding a scheduled call. Every attendee has blocked off time from their calendar for this. Maybe some people even left their cubicles to take the call from a quiet conference room. You’ve told these folks you’ll be available at 3 p.m., so when you keep them hanging, you’re breaking a promise.

Let me put the point this way: Punctuality isn’t only a professional courtesy, it’s also a reflection of your integrity–or lack of. Don’t be that guy who always arrives five minutes late and then interrupts everyone to answer the question, “Who just joined?”

2. You host the call without an agenda

As the host of a conference call, one of your chief duties takes place before the call even begins: You need to write an agenda.

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Without an agenda, you’ll inevitably get sidetracked. Chances are, the meeting will take much longer than you expected, and you ‘ll skip or minimize items because you ran out of time.

3. You don’t tell your attendees who will be at the meeting

Speaking of agendas, here’s something else that too many overlook: a list of expected attendees. How many times have you been on a call that includes people you don’t know? As a result, when one of these folks speaks, you’re not sure who they are. You scramble to pick up clues.

It doesn’t need to be that stressful. Indeed, the solution is simple: Use your agenda to identify each attendee pro-actively. Even better: Include their job title. That way, when you ask people to identify themselves before speaking, everyone will have a cheat sheet to reference.

4. You dial from somewhere noisy

If you work in an open office or a cubicle, you’re no doubt used to background noise. You may have even learned how to tune it out. (Please teach me.) For the rest of us, such distractions are, well, distracting.

My advice: Don’t be that person who seems to be dialing in on speakerphone from the middle of Times Square. Don’t be that person who’s clacking away on their keyboard as if they’re pounding pizza dough. Don’t be that person who’s calling from his car in the middle of nowhere, where the cellular connection is as weak as a candle in the wind.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not without empathy. Life happens, and sometimes you can’t predict interruptions. Just try to minimize it, or invest in a pair of good headphones.

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5. You don’t mute your audio when you’re not talking

Perhaps the most important button on any phone is the “mute” button. Use it. Master it. And don’t feel bad about it. That said, it’s all too easy to abuse this magical feature, so here are a couple of caveats:

1. Make sure you’re prepared to unmute when someone asks you a question. There’s nothing worse than asking someone something and then hearing silence.

2. Some buttons are unclear, so make absolutely, 100% sure you know when you’re on mute and when you’re not.

Anyone who’s been in business long enough has a favorite story to tell about the poor soul who left himself audibly exposed. Maybe he was using the bathroom; perhaps he was cracking a joke to his coworkers in the room. You probably remember these because you know that it could have been you.

6. You insist on multitasking

Here’s a stubborn fact: You can’t multitask. Don’t feel bad: No one can. What I mean by that is you can’t do two things at once as well as you can do each item one at a time.”I’m just checking email,” you may protest. “I’m just crossing things off my to-do list.” Nope: You’re just rude.

Indeed, one of the most brazenly offensive things you can do is to show someone they don’t have your full attention. So, just as you wouldn’t multitask during an in-person meeting, don’t do it during a phone-based session. Treat your virtual peers with the same respect you’d give them if you were physically face-to-face.

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7. You don’t take the time to test the software

Finally, we get to one of the most frustrating faux pas of them all. Ten minutes into the call, someone is still fumbling with a technical problem. I’ve seen it all: Slow Wi-Fi, clunky software, slides that don’t sync, PINs that bring you into another party’s call.

Such issues may be inevitable, but smart hosts know how to prevent them: through the age-old process of preparation. If something is worth taking up the time of a group of people, then it’s definitely worth preparing for.


Jeff Lotman is the founder and chief executive of Global Icons, a brand-licensing agency. Connect with him on LinkedIn, where he comments daily on business bugbears.

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