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.