Let’s face it: conference calls can be awkward. Scratchy sounds. Dead air. Something about not seeing the people you’re talking to (and their nonverbal cues, like facial expressions and hand movements) makes it harder to communicate.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is some conference call etiquette do’s and don’ts so you can have a smoother meeting.

1. Fix Technical Difficulties Beforehand

Dropped calls are annoying – especially when you’re having a conversation with a large group of people in dispersed locations. That’s why you need to make sure your phone system is fully functioning before you dial into the conference call. Nothing screams unprofessional more than an inability to manage your own company’s logistics.

If you’re looking for a new phone system, stick to the ones like Clarity Voice that offer uptimes of nearly 99.9%. That way, the chances of your call dropping will be essentially zero. Also, look for providers who offer HD voice or Acoustical Fencing to enhance the voice quality of the conversation. It will help eliminate the static or background office conversations that plague conference calls.

2. Be on Time

This should be easy, right? However, for many people, joining a conference call can be a challenge. Some have been “burned” by sitting on conference calls waiting for up to 15 minutes before the rest of the attendees call in. If you already know who are likely to be late, send a text reminder to those typically tardy participants. It’s an easy way to remind people on the move and not tied to their desks.

3. Be Upfront About Call Disruptions

The ideal conference call should take place indoors in a quiet area. But if you’re on the run using your mobile phone, you may have to dial into conference calls from a remote location with background noise. It’s key that you relay this information to the parties you’re talking to:

Apologies for the noise. I’m at the airport. Let me know if it gets too bad.

If you fail to acknowledge the background noise, the people you’re talking with may assume that something is wrong with their phone system, or they may think that you’re being flat out disrespectful. By being upfront, you save everyone from scratching their heads.

4. Establish Who’s Participating

It’s important to know who will be participating in the conference call before you dial in. A call with two other employees requires a different amount of effort than a company-wide meeting does. So, know who your audience is before you get on the call.

And make sure the other callers know who will be attending too. It’s a good idea to send out a calendar invite to all participants so that everyone can get a sense of who’s coming, along with the time, the date, and the estimated duration of the call. It’s a common courtesy that translates into solid conference call etiquette.

5. Always Introduce Yourself (Or Be Introduced By Someone)

Giving your own introduction, or being introduced by another team member, is vital for a conference call to unfold without confusion. It’s hard to identify a person just by his or her voice, and if it’s not made clear who’s speaking, the call will be muddled and unproductive. If someone else introduces you, make sure to at least say ‘Hi’, so that the other participants can hear what your voice sounds like.

Introductions are doubly important when you’re conferencing with people you’ve never met. In that case, go around to everyone in your team, and allow each person to state his or her name and title and what interest they have in the upcoming discussion.

6. Speak Loudly and Clearly

Even the deepest of voices can be obscured during a conference call. When you speak, slow down the rhythm of your speech, take pauses, and most importantly, speak loudly when you talk into the speakerphone.

If you have a soft voice, sit as close to the phone as you can. And if this continues to be a problem, consider ordering a conferencing phone such as Poly’s SoundStation which are specifically designed for conference calls.

7. Account for Dead Air

Silence is fine during an in-person meeting, but on a conference call, the quietness can lead to confusion. If the air stays dead long enough, the participants may assume that the other side is having technical difficulties, or simply being unresponsive, perhaps even rude. If you’re in a situation where a direct answer is forthcoming, but not immediate, try to describe the actions you’re taking:

I’m just logging into my email now. OK. Searching for John’s email. Here it is. “Profits.” You’re right. It was 4.9% last year.

By narrating a small sequence of events, you can actively tell the other participants that you’re still engaged in the call. And if that’s not possible, politely say: “Let me think on it for a second.” This kind of skillful management shows that you have superior conference call etiquette.

8. Save Specialized Conversations for a Private Call

If you’re in a meeting with fifteen people, and you and another participant are dominating the discussion with a lengthy topic that holds significance only for the two of you, ask that person to have a follow up call with you after the conference call is over. Eating up the meeting’s oxygen with a specialized topic wastes the time of everybody else on the conference call.

If you know you have to discuss a specialized topic with one of the participants, come prepared with a brief blurb on the matter, and then parlay the issue back to a later time (“Jim, let’s take this offline”).

9. Establish What Was Accomplished When Finished

When the conference call is coming to an end, reach a consensus with the other participants about what was achieved during the meeting. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page before signing off:

OK, so Julie. You’re going to make the copies. Heather is going to research the Sales from of Alabama. I’ll start writing the report for John. 

10. Leave With a Goodbye

Always sign off from a conference call with a formal goodbye. It’s a phone call after all, and you would do the same thing if you were talking to a person one-on-one. Even if you didn’t say much, throw in a sendoff to make your presence felt.

Schedule another meeting if necessary. If you don’t, at least establish what would warrant another call (“…when we finish … then let’s all reconnect to discuss…”). And lastly, follow through with any promises you made during the call. Email people who need to be emailed. Check the items that need to be checked.

With these tips in mind, you might be able to avoid a conference call like this:


Learn more about conference call etiquette for participants see our blog post.