When participating in a teleconference, it's important to be prepared.

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Mark is struggling with unfamiliar audio controls as conference coordinator and cuts off Sylvia's comment, disconnecting her. He's not sure where Bill is -- he should have been a participant, but he hasn't checked in. Joe and Paul insist on participating from a speakerphone and clip off parts of the conversation every time they talk. Melissa calls in from London but has to leave early because her cell phone needs to be recharged. Kelly and Maria sound so much alike that it's impossible to tell who's talking.

Jack has to take an important call and puts the conference on hold, leaving a background of elevator music for everyone else. From the clicking sound and her vague responses, Anna is reading and answering her e-mail while teleconferencing. And as usual, Emily keeps interrupting everyone's comments, while Robert wants to direct the discussion to his pet topic of improving office technology.

What, you ask yourself, am I supposed to get out of this teleconference? No matter what the conference topic is, any teleconference runs better if everyone understands and observes some rules of teleconference etiquette.

To a large extent, teleconferencing etiquette is simply politeness -- waiting your turn and treating everyone respectfully with patience and tact. But the technology and format of teleconferencing create the need for etiquette rules that go beyond what's expected in a conversation between two or three people in the same room.

What do you need to do to keep a teleconference on track? How can some of the etiquette problems be headed off before the conference starts? And what can you do during the conference, as a leader or a participant, to keep it civil and running smoothly? First, let's consider the advance etiquette for a teleconference.