First impressions are essential, and in the business world, they often occur in the form of a conference call. Whether it’s your first interaction or your hundredth, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to make sure your conference call is as productive and distraction-free as possible.
Here’s a simple checklist that you can use to better your odds of having a successful conference call.
Prepare Ahead of Time
(More than 30 minutes before meeting)
- Reserve a quiet, well-lit space. Minimal background noise is very important as it will lead to fewer distractions during the meeting. Also, a dimly lit room will make your video feed look poor.
- Contain your pets. Dogs barking in the background can be very annoying for participants because a lot of conference software will automatically adjust the volume to emphasize the person who is speaking. When your dog barks, your audio will get louder while other people’s will get quieter. If you’re conferencing from home, make a plan to isolate yourself from Sparky.
- Finish eating before the call. Eating during a call is wrong on multiple levels. It’s rude, it’s distracting, you might choke… just don’t do it. If it’s near meal time, plan on finishing your food well before the meeting begins.
- Find a headset. When I’m the only participant at my location, I always try to have a headset on hand just in case something goes wrong with the audio.
- Inform others of your meeting. If you think it’s likely that someone (e.g. kids, spouse, co-worker, etc.) will interrupt you during the call, inform them that you will be occupied ahead of time so they won’t barge in or make a lot of background noise.
- Check your appearance. This might seem silly, but take a minute to look at yourself in the mirror. You’re going to be broadcasting a live feed of your face to bunch of people; you probably don’t want to have broccoli in your teeth.
Be Ready Early
(10-15 minutes before the meeting)
- Use the restroom and get a beverage. If you have to use the bathroom or need a drink during the meeting, there’s a chance you’ll miss some important conversation.
- Turn on the lights. There always seems to be one person who appears to be lurking in the shadows because their lighting is too dim or coming in at the wrong angle. Don’t be that person—turn on the lights.
- Close programs and disable notifications. If you’re presenting or there’s a chance you’ll need to screenshare, make sure you close down any unnecessary applications and put your computer/cell phone in Do Not Disturb mode. Again, this is all about reducing distractions.
- Verify your connection to the conferencing host. Install any required applications or plug-ins, and test your audio/video setup. Most conferencing software offers a way to test a connection ahead of time. Make sure you do that well before the meeting starts so that you have time to troubleshoot or contact someone if there is a problem. Check your speakers and microphone to make sure they aren’t muted at the system level.
- Sit as close as possible to your microphone & camera. This will drastically improve the quality of your audio and video feeds. You want to represent yourself in the clearest way possible.
- Keep your cell phone nearby. If other participants (who are not as prepared as you!) are having trouble joining, they may try to contact you right as the meeting is starting. Try to be available to help them so that the meeting will not be delayed.
Be Aware During the Call
- Mute your audio. Even if you are in a quiet space, try to keep your microphone muted if you’re not going to be talking. Even subtle noises like the fan on your computer, typing, or an HVAC system turning on can be surprisingly noisy when amplified by your microphone. If I’m not leading a meeting, I will often keep my mouse over the mute button and only un-mute when I want to say something.
- Keep your camera on. Even though you might not want to be seen, people will like being able to see you. It helps them know you’re present and paying attention. Resist the urge to turn off your camera. After all, you did make sure to check your appearance before the meeting started, so you know you’re looking good!
- Verify your audio quality. If you’re presenting, start off by asking everyone if they can hear you clearly. If there is a problem, it may take people a while to speak up without prompting. The sooner you can catch a problem, the less you will have to repeat yourself.
- Fix problems promptly. If there is a problem with audio (yours or someone else’s), fix it promptly. This may mean switching over to a telephone instead of computer audio. A land line may seem archaic, but it’s tried and true!
- Wait for the right time to interject. It can be very tempting to speak up every time a thought pops into your head. Think about everything you want to say one more time than you normally would. If your question can wait, hold off and let the other person continue talking. That is not to say that you shouldn’t speak up; just wait for the right time to do so.
- Take a break. It you’re hosting a long meeting, it’s likely that someone will need a bathroom break. Offer to take a five-minute break partway through. This will also give people a chance to move around a bit so that they can be more awake and attentive when the meeting resumes.
- End the call promptly. Once the call is over, immediately disconnect from the conferencing software. This will prevent any private conversations from being shared with an unknown audience.
Contrary to the title of this post, there is no such thing as a Conference Call Rockstar. It’s very unlikely that anyone will praise you because nothing went wrong during your call. On the other hand, if people leave the meeting feeling annoyed and disrespected, they will remember that.
Being diligent and well-prepared may be a thankless job, but you’ll be glad you went to the effort when you reflect on the meeting and realize you rocked it!