This is Bob from Phoenix: The Art of the Conference Call

My strategy for this conference call is to play dead.” ― Anonymous “demotivational” poster.

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This is Bob from Phoenix: The Art of the Conference Call

This is Bob from Phoenix: The Art of the Conference Call by Laura StackWhat do you get when you cross a meeting with a phone call?

Perhaps you have seen that hysterical YouTube video called “The Conference Call.” If not, you simply must look it up. It’s extremely educational as to what NOT to do on a conference call, as it combines the worst aspects of a long distance telephone call and a meeting.

Despite its challenges, conference calls resulted in a near-miraculous change in how we did business. The difficulty of communicating over long distances no longer bound organizations; even the other side of the world lay a half-second away. No longer did executives have to travel cross-country to special meetings. Now they could make company-wide decisions and begin widespread initiatives immediately.

By the 1990s, email was starting to supplant teleconferences; later, videoconferencing and Skyping became common. Yet teleconferencing is far from gone. Rather than gathering in a conference room and holding it meeting-style at each end, individuals now tend to call in using a central service like for audio only or for screen sharing (my favorites). By necessity, a specific teleconferencing etiquette has evolved, comprised mostly of common sense due to technical constraints. ( <–CLICK TO TWEET)

To increase conference call productivity, you’ll need to apply same methods used in traditional meetings:

  • Appoint a facilitator or leader.
  • Limit the meeting to those who absolutely need to attend.
  • Arrive early.
  • Stick to the agreed-upon agenda.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Don’t start over for people who arrive late.
  • Finish when planned.

These factors apply even more acutely to teleconferences, given the required planning factors (especially when calls take place across distant time zones). Dropping the ball means having to schedule another meeting to finish up, and not everyone may be able to make it.

But teleconferencing has its own unique challenges, since some attendees will try to multitask, since they aren’t occupying the same room with everyone else. We all know this doesn’t work (or we should by now), but many attendees do it anyway (including hearing flushing sounds on the other end). Who hasn’t attended a conference call and heard people munching on chips in the background, tap-tap-tapping on their keyboards doing email, or holding a sidebar conversation with someone else? Other common teleconference hazards include barking dogs, howling infants, honking horns, and the terminally oblivious who just walk right in and start a conversation.

Hence the Number One rule of teleconferencing: make copious use of the mute button when not speaking. Most teleconferencing equipment, from cell phones to headsets, include mute buttons. Just don’t forget to click it off when you speak—another frustration as attendees say, “Jeff? Jeff? You’re on mute!”

Other important factors to consider:

  • If you arrive late, wait for a lull. Announce yourself, apologize for your tardiness, and don’t waste everyone’s time with excuses.
  • Introduce yourself briefly the first time you speak, including your location and, if necessary, your position: e.g., “Hi, this is Bob, marketing team lead from Phoenix.”
  • Unless all attendees know each other well enough to know voices, identify yourself each time you speak. Voices are harder to recognize than faces.
  • Call from a location with as little background noise as possible.
  • Give the call your undivided attention, just as you would a face-to-face meeting where everyone can see you. Don’t do email or outside work. “Bob, what do you think?” “I’m sorry, what?”
  • Record the meeting or ask the leader to hit record. Never assume you’re not being recorded yourself.
  • Use a wireless headset to keep your hands free for taking notes.
  • Stand up and move around a bit, so you can concentrate.

Moving Right Along 

As with most communication methods, common sense and good manners rule the day with teleconferences. Unfortunately, we sometimes get so busy or in such a hurry we let both lapse in favor of saving time. But as most of us have come to know, trying to cut corners often ends up wasting more time than it saves. The semi-anonymity of teleconferencing also sometimes results in people reacting the way they do on the Internet while hiding behind a screen name: thoughtlessly, rudely, and abruptly.

Whether in a conference room with half your department or from your home, keep the above rules in mind while participating in a teleconference. Professionalism promotes productivity—and neither ever goes out of style.

This week on LinkedIn:

The Perfect World: Helping Your Team Understand and Commit to Team Goals

brainThe problem most people face with their personal productivity isn’t that they don’t know what we should be working on. They know exactly what they SHOULD be working on —they just don’t do it. Productivity requires self-discipline. What prevents us from having self-discipline? Our brains. My #productivityhack is to ignore your brain when it wants to go haring off after a bright, shiny new idea. Read More on LinkedIn.

In the news:

Why school is never out for the professional at The Business Journals

Recommended Articles:

3 Reasons You Can’t Seem to Stick to Deadlines You Set for Yourself (and How to Start)

How to Do More in a Day by Blocking Mobile Distractions


Tune in this week as Laura talks about Balancing Short-Term Tactics and Long-Term Strategy.

© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.



  1. Robert Simpson says:

    Laura, this is a helpful article.
    I have a question about conference calls that was not covered. How can the facilitator and others handle the problem or reduce the problem of 2 or more people speaking at the same time during the call? Since the persons are not visible to one another, there are no visual cues as to who needs or wants to speak next.
    Thank you, Bob

    • Hi Bob! This is indeed a common, challenging situation! Since participants should begin comments by stating their name, if two begin to talk at once, it’s the leader’s (or moderator’s) responsibility to interrupt right away and say something like, “Shawn, I’m sorry hang on, let’s hear from Jill first, and then you.” Without someone intervening and making an executive decision, the participants “feel bad” and spend too much time with the “you go,” “no you go” type talk. Hope that helps!