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Updated Oct 27, 2023

Can You Hear Me Now? Avoid the Most Common Conference Call Faux Pas

Adhere to conference call etiquette for more productive and efficient meetings.

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Simone Johnson, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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Late arrivals, distracting background noises and people talking over each other are just a few of the annoying issues we encounter during conference calls. Avoiding these faux pas and other disruptions is critical for conducting efficient and productive phone and virtual meetings. 

We’ll highlight some of the worst conference call etiquette mistakes and share 12 tips for ensuring your conference calls are as beneficial – and painless – as possible for everyone involved. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Whether your conference is virtual, in an office or at a restaurant, essential business meeting etiquette tenets hold true: Be on time, greet attendees, and listen thoughtfully.

What are the worst conference call faux pas?

The rise of video calls during the pandemic engendered new ways to breach business meeting etiquette while cementing familiar conferencing faux pas. Here are some of the worst conference call etiquette breaches – on the phone or during video calls – to be aware of and avoid:

  • Not being on time
  • Speaking over others
  • Having an untested and unprepared tech setup with glitches
  • Allowing excessive background noise into the call
  • Not paying attention to the proceedings
  • Having an unattractive, unprofessional or distracting background on video calls
  • Looking in the wrong direction on video calls
  • Having a poor setup that displays too brightly or darkly
  • Speaking while muted 

Stay aware of these unprofessional behaviors and annoyances to host productive video conferences or traditional conference calls. 

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How can you improve your conference calls?

Conference calls, video conferences and in-person meetings serve the same purpose: They help you and your team plan and prepare for projects and future responsibilities. But because conference calls and video conferences rely on technology, it’s crucial to follow specific guidelines to ensure the proceedings run smoothly. 

Joanne Blake, a business etiquette expert and CEO of Style for Success, believes preparation is the key to improving conference call productivity. “A lot of faux pas can be eliminated if ground rules are set in advance or reviewed periodically,” Blake advised. 

Here are 12 guidelines to help you run effective conference calls. These tips hold true whether you’re conducting a traditional call or hosting a video conference via Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Meetings, GoTo Meeting or another service. 

TipTip
To choose the right video conference service, evaluate your needs and budget. Check out our review of GoTo Connect to get started.

1. Start on time.

If you’re worried about latecomers missing out on information, assign one of your team members to fill them in later. Most of your group will already be on the call, so it’s essential to respect their time and start and end the meeting on schedule. 

2. Have an agenda. 

Prepare and disseminate a copy of your agenda well in advance of the meeting so everyone is on the same page. Ideally, attendees should spend time reviewing the agenda before the meeting starts. 

3. Appoint a leader. 

A conference call shouldn’t be a free-for-all, said Barbara Mitchell, a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Mitchell advised that whoever initiates the meeting should ideally guide the call.

4. Take time for introductions. 

When people join the call, ask them to announce themselves. Once everyone is present, do a roll call to be sure no one is missing. During the meeting, before sharing your thoughts with the group, introduce yourself. Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says introductions are crucial. “If you are talking to somebody who isn’t familiar with you or the people in your company, it is helpful to know who is speaking.” 

Did You Know?Did you know
An overabundance of video meetings can lead to Zoom burnout. To avoid Zoom burnout, use other communication methods when possible and don't force video interaction.

5. Manage background noise. 

Conference call hosts and participants should choose their call locations carefully. “Choose a quiet location, whether you’re a participant or the person chairing the call,” Blake advised. “If [you’re] calling from a home office, barking dogs and children running around can be heard.” On video calls, this can be even more distracting.

Blake also advised ensuring everyone knows how to mute their phone, computer or other device to avoid distracting noises during the meeting. Silencing yourself lets you sneeze, shift and make sounds without disturbing others on the call. “You want to block out any ambient noise,” Blake noted. 

6. Encourage participation from all attendees. 

Making everyone feel included during a call is essential. It’s very easy for participants to disengage. On audio calls, some may believe that because they can’t be seen, they can attend to other tasks, such as working on other assignments, eating, typing or rifling through drawers. “When you’re distracted, you may stumble when called on to speak,” Blake said. 

Encourage attendees to ask questions and share their opinions. Avoid monologuing, and if you’re the meeting facilitator, come prepared with questions for the team. This encourages participants to focus and contribute to the call. 

7. Appoint a note-taker. 

During the meeting, appoint someone to take notes or minutes. When many people are on one call, various ideas are shared, and it can be difficult to remember everything. Have someone keep track of key decisions and outcomes from the discussion. “Send out a follow-up email with what was agreed to, just as you would if you were meeting face to face,” Mitchell advised. 

8. Let others know if you need to leave early. 

Let everyone know at the start of the meeting (or beforehand, if possible) if you can’t stay for the duration of the call. It’s less distracting if those on the call know you will be leaving so that no one’s confused when you hang up or depart. “If you have to drop off the call for any reason, let the facilitator know you are leaving so we don’t call on you and waste time,” said Mitchell. 

9. End on time. 

Respecting everyone’s time is essential. Keep your remarks to a minimum to get through the agenda and avoid exceeding the allotted time. According to Blake, not ending conference calls on time is viewed as disrespectful. “It affects productivity and can make you come across as a poor time manager,” Blake said. 

10. Summarize action items. 

Toward the end of the call, the host should summarize the assignments, tasks or other action items that team members have accepted during the call. This helps participants understand what they are expected to do after the call ends. 

TipTip
To manage various projects and assignments, consider small business organization apps like LivePlan, Gusto and Hootsuite.

11. Follow up with key contacts. 

If you are supposed to connect with specific team members after the meeting, shoot them an email or link up with them before the workday is over. This mini-meeting can help everyone quickly confirm that you’re all on the same page about what was discussed. 

12. Jot down your own notes. 

Even if someone took notes for the group, write down your own notes after the meeting. This helps you remember action items assigned to you. It also reinforces critical aspects of the call that pertain to you that may not be included in the minutes. If you take notes by hand on your mobile device, use a handwriting recognition app to translate and organize your thoughts. 

Why is conference call etiquette important?

Brushing up on conference call etiquette is crucial because it’s easy to slip into bad habits that make virtual meetings and calls annoying and inefficient. 

“While it might seem as if a conference call is just another telephone call, it isn’t,” Mitchell said. “Conference calls need some guidelines to be successful.” 

If you’re still experiencing impolite behavior and unproductive conference calls and virtual meetings, Mitchell recommends putting together a task force to address new practices and processes to implement going forward to get everyone on the same page. 

Did You Know?Did you know
The best business phone systems incorporate video, chat, SMS and fax functionality to help you handle all your meeting needs.

Get conference calls right

Businesses of all sizes rely on conference calls and virtual meetings to communicate and connect with people they don’t see every day, including remote workers, vendors, advisers and partners. They’re an opportunity to make an excellent impression and maintain healthy business relationships. Taking the time to prepare and adhere to conferencing best practices shows your participants you care and respect their time.

Alex Halperin contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Simone Johnson, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Simone Johnson advises small business owners on the services and resources needed for not only day-to-day operations but also long-term profitability and growth. She's long had an interest in finance and has studied economic trends affecting the financial landscape, including the stock market. With this expertise, Johnson provides useful instruction on everything from EBITDA to payroll forms. In recent years, Johnson has expanded her purview to include advertising technology and digital marketing strategies. She has spent significant time profiling entrepreneurs and helps companies with brand objectives and audience targeting. Johnson holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in journalism.
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