Conference Call Etiquette

3 easy etiquette tips for proper conference calls.

Richie Frieman,
Episode #241

Conference Call Etiquette

Last week, I was on a conference call with 5 people. Not a large group, but enough to create a lively discussion about a project we were all working on. It seemed like a simple exercise. However, it felt as if this was the first time some of the callers have ever used a phone. Instead of discussing project, we should have put proper conference call etiquette on the agenda.

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From the way people introduced themselves, to eating their lunch while on the phone, to not muting their line when someone else was talking, the list of improper conference call behavior went on and on. It was an hour and a half of, “What did you say?”… “Wow, this cookie is great!”… and the constant pitter patter of typing. It was enough to drive me mad! 

As always, Modern Manners Guy is there to help resolve any workplace faux pas. Check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper conference call etiquette:

Tip #1: Did Someone Just Come on the Line?

We’ve all experienced this: “Okay, great, I think we’re all on the line, so I’m going to get started. Today on the agenda we…”

Then before the person can finish someone beeps in, “Hi there, this is Mary.”

Two seconds later, another beeeeeep, “Tom, here.”

One second later, beeeeeeeep, “This is Judy.”

And then, one by one, you hear these beeps break up the conversation before it even gets off the ground. I get that people can’t control the actual beeping – that’s automated – but they can control how they come onto the line. This, my mannerly friends, comes with simply being on time and respecting other’s time. I know, shocking, right?

First of all, you should not be late for a meeting – whether it’s in person, virtual, or telecommunications. So let’s all make peace with this and understand this is essential.  But when you know that people will be late – because like death and taxes, lateness is inevitable – I like to ask everyone who thinks they might be late to come on the call at certain increments. For example, when you send out the email invitation for the call, put a note that says the following, “We hope you can join the call promptly at 2:00PM but if you are running late, please wait to come on the line in 5 minute increments, so we do not interrupt the speaker.”

See also: How NOT to Show Up Late to a Meeting

This is a very nice way of saying, “Look you lazy bum, don’t be late. And if you are late, don’t just hop on when you feel like it so the speaker – who spent all day preparing – is interrupted every 30 seconds!” When you set this rule in advance, the speaker will be sure to tailor their presentation with certain pauses for oncoming/late callers. It’s a quick and simple way to make sure there are less inconvenient interruptions.

Tip #2: Mind the Mute Button

Last month I was on a conference call where one person was on his cell phone the entire length of the call and we could hear his conversation via his office phone. I learned that he was planning a trip to Phoenix with his brother and they were trying to get tickets to a basketball game while there. Fascinating stuff.

This led me to learn the following 3 things:

  1. He ignored the other callers totally.

  2. When talking to his brother, he used much more colorful language than he ever did in the office

  3. He lied to us when at the end of the call, he said, “Great meeting everyone” because clearly, he didn’t pay any attention to what was discussed during the call.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why people don’t use the mute button during a conference call? Every single modern phone has a mute button, and it’s perfectly positioned right next to the numbers. So why do some people forget to use it? All of his improper behavior was witnessed (and mocked) by everyone because he simply didn’t use the mute button. If you don’t want to listen to the call, fine. No worries. If you need to type while on the call, fine, go right ahead. But please use the mute button. No one wants to hear your personal calls, let alone the tick-tick-tick of your computer keys. Just wait for your turn to speak then un-mute the phone and jump into the conversation. No harm, no foul. No one will know you were watching YouTube videos of Justin Timberlake as the dancing tofu on SNL, rather than listen to the group. And that’s just fine – as long as we don’t know about it!

Tip #3: Introduce Yourself

When you meet someone for the first time, it’s proper to say your name and shake hands. In many cultures around the world, this is the norm. However, on a conference call, people tend to either rush through or over-elaborate on their bio. Many don’t even say who they are, while others ramble endlessly like they’re the only ones on the call and need to confess something. Here are a few examples:

1.      The Quick Shout

“It’s Bob.”

Oh, Bob! That Bob. The only Bob in the world. I should have known.

2.      The Résumé Launcher

“Hi it’s Bob, director of regional sales and marketing for the past 10 years. Before that, I worked at Cook and McCarl for eight years doing mainly research and running the North American team. This past quarter our profits hit a five-year high, thanks to my hard work… And yes, I’m happy to be on the call today.”

I’m sorry, did I miss the part where a simple “Good morning” was underrated? And why do I need to hear about his successes as an intro? It’s like, “Hi, I’m Superman, I can carry ten cars in one hand. You may have heard of me.” Yeah thanks.

A good introduction would simply be, “Good morning, this is Bob, director of The Williams Group.” No need to ramble, no need to boast about your achievements since the ninth grade. This is just an introduction. Use your opinions during the call to make a name for yourself.

3.      The Day Planner

“Hi this is Bob. Look, I got a 12:30 call so I’ll only be on for about ten minutes and then I’ll try to pop back on if I can. But most likely I won’t because I then have at 2:00 T-time. So, just email me if you need something.”

I’m so happy Bob could fit us in on his busy day. And so glad he had to announce it to the entire group right off the bat.

Here’s the thing: If you were meeting in person, would you do any of the things that you sometimes hear on a conference call? Probably not. You wouldn’t eat, you wouldn’t ignore people, and you won’t announce to the team that you have to leave because you have more “important” business.

If you have to eat, you do so before the call. And if you have another more important meeting, simply excuse yourself properly. Say, “I’m so sorry but I was pulled into something at the last minute and have to leave before our call ends. I will reach out to the organizer to follow up on any notes. Thank you for your time.” There. Done.

Do you have a great story about a bad conference call? Post all the details in the comment section or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

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