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.
Things to Consider Before a Teleconference Call
Teleconference etiquette starts before anyone picks up a phone. By planning ahead, both the teleconference leader, or host, and its participants can make teleconferencing a more polite and pleasant experience.
Some breaches in teleconferencing etiquette are simply the result of boredom and frustration. Participants kept longer than expected or trapped in discussions of side issues are likely to become disinterested and impatient.
As the host, you can short-circuit those reactions by planning the meeting carefully.
- Develop an agenda that covers the main points and is as brief and targeted as possible. Participants will be more likely to be attentive and to stay on track if they know what to expect.
- Send out meeting-related materials in advance so that participants are familiar with them and you won't have to take time explaining basic information.
- Ask participants to send related material to each other in advance.
Handling the arrangements carefully will also help make the teleconference run smoothly with no one missing or arriving late.
- Give adequate notice about the time and date of the meeting.
- Provide clear instructions on how to participate in the teleconference. For example, do participants need to call a specific phone number and enter a code to be admitted?
- Contact each participant a day or two before the teleconference with a reminder and make sure they'll be there.
- Send gentle reminders of etiquette for the meeting, such as stating their name as they start speaking ("Dave here; I want to comment . . ."), allowing others to complete their thoughts before starting to speak and avoiding derogative or argumentative comments.
Don't let technology contribute to etiquette problems, as can happen if a participant is cut off mid-comment.
- Work with the equipment you'll be using so that you can handle it without slip-ups during the conference.
- Arrange for someone to help you with the equipment while you're running the conference.
- Plan on the fewest people possible in the same room with you to cut down on coughing, paper shuffling and other distracting noises.
- Provide participants with any technology details they'll need, such as requesting that they mute their phones when they're not speaking to reduce background noise.
If you are a teleconference participant, be pro-active about closing out extraneous noise, reducing interruptions and preparing to take an active part in discussions.
- Use a landline phone (for better sound quality) in a closed room, if possible. And arrange for incoming calls to be forwarded during the conference.
- If you must use a cell phone or mobile device, make sure it's fully charged and that you've scouted out a spot where you have three or four signal strength bars and little background noise. Flipping the ringer switch to off and using a headset can help minimize the sound of system alerts, sirens, airport chatter or anything else in the background.
- If you're in the office, prepare to close the door and put a "Conference in Progress: Do not Enter" sign on your door. If you work out of a cubicle, try to find a conference room or other quiet area.
- Get the bathroom break out of the way before the meeting starts.
- Familiarize yourself with the agenda, meeting materials, etiquette rules and tech specs.
No matter how you plan, teleconferencing etiquette doesn't stop when the meeting starts. Keep reading to find out what you should avoid, as a host or a participant, so that your teleconference runs smoothly and politely.
Things to Avoid During a Teleconference Call
The day of the teleconference has arrived, and you think you've done all you can as host to make sure teleconference etiquette will be observed and the meeting will run smoothly. But don't assume that your work on teleconferencing etiquette is done. There are plenty of behaviors that you -- and your participants -- will want to avoid during the teleconference.
Perhaps one of the most important is don't wait around for latecomers and start late. If participants feel that the teleconference is taking valuable time, a late start will only confirm this and frustrate them. You'll be off to a rocky start before you say a word.
As you begin, don't move right into the agenda without taking time to:
- Ask each participant to say his or her name. By introducing the participants, you'll know if anyone is missing, and everyone will have a chance to familiarize themselves with each other's voices.
- Quickly review rules of etiquette and request that each participant to identify him or herself before making a comment.
- Ask mobile device users to flip ringer switches to off and everyone to ignore phone calls and other interruptions so they can focus on the teleconference.
Once the teleconference starts, don't:
- Let anyone enter the teleconference without noting their arrival. That way, participants won't feel like someone is listening without participating.
- Allow participants to wander into off-topic discussions. Summarize the relevant points made and direct everyone back to the next item on the agenda.
- Tolerate inappropriate language or rude comments. Try to defuse the situation, if tempers are running high, remind everyone of the rules of etiquette and move back to the agenda.
- Forget to pause frequently. You'll want to give participants time to think about what's being said and to add their own comments. Participants can't see each other, so a pause gives them a chance to step in without feeling that they're interrupting.
- Let it run overtime, or tempers may flare. Keep a close eye on the agenda, and if there's no time to discuss other important topics, indicate that they'll be handled through an e-mail exchange or on the agenda for the next teleconference.
- End the conference without indicating an opportunity for polite feedback. Send an e-mail asking participants to let you know how the teleconference went. Was it worth the time? Did the technology work? What could have been done differently?
If you're a participant, you'll want to avoid:
- Showing up late. You'll find yourself trying to catch up with the discussion, and the host will have to take time to introduce you to the group.
- Losing focus. Keep your mind on the teleconference, instead of multitasking by also answering e-mail, shopping online, playing video poker, prepping an agenda for an upcoming meeting or handling a departmental crisis.
- Allowing distractions like phone calls, employees with questions or visiting friends to make their way into your office.
- Having call waiting on your phone send beeps into the teleconference. Turn it off before the meeting starts.
- Speaking without saying who you are.
- Addressing a question to the group instead of to a specific individual. You'll get an answer quicker if everyone doesn't pause to figure out who will respond.
- Responding with anger or sarcasm to comments that someone else makes.
With a little advance planning, efforts to minimize distractions and simple courtesy, a teleconference can be a worthwhile meeting that brings people together for a purpose when they can't all be in the same room.
For lots more information about teleconference etiquette and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Friedman, Susan. "33 Tips for Using Teleconferencing for Meeting Preparation." Concept Marketing Group. http://www.marketingsource.com/articles/view/1796
- Russell, Daiv. "Teleconference Etiquette is Your Key to Successful Conference Calls." SearchWarp.com. http://searchwarp.com/swa293717.htm
- Anderson, Carly. "Teleconference Etiquette." Ezine articles. http://ezinearticles.com/?Teleconference-Etiquette&id=383212