Tips for Great Conference Calls

Working in software development, is it guaranteed that you will attend a conference call at some point. I hate to use the cliché, but it’s 2019 and some people are still terrible at this. You will hear noises in the background, people won’t pay attention or will talk over each other and you have technical blunders.

So I decided to put together a list of tips for improving your conference call experience.

Find a good meeting space

This one sounds obvious, but try to make every effort to obtain a quiet space to have your meeting. Conference rooms are the best choice, but barring that, any quiet space will do.

Also be aware that while it may be quiet for you, you will be potentially making the space less quiet for other people. Avoid taking calls at your desk if you are in an open office.

If it is nice outside and you are the only caller from your end, it can sometimes be nice to go for a walk. I have taken calls on city walking trails and parking garages before. This might not be ideal for every call, but it’s a good option to have.

Join on time

When you schedule a meeting, you are making a promise to your attendees, you are taking up peoples time. if you fail to join people who could otherwise be doing useful work are instead waiting in dead silence for the call to begin.

Don’t be late.

If you absolutely must be late, make sure you send out a notification as early as possible to let them know of your delay or, even better, update the calendar invite with a new start time.

Sound

If you are taking the call alone, use headphones with a microphone. These typically sound better because the microphone is close to your mouth, but be mindful you don’t move around much if it is laying against your shirt. Avoid Bluetooth headphones unless you know they are of a high quality so you don’t sound robotic.

Mute yourself when you are not speaking. Learn how to mute your call in the software you use and make liberal use of that button.

If you are taking a call with multiple people, avoid using Laptop microphones. Also, be aware they can pick up the sound of every keystroke if you are typing while talking. We have a couple Jabra Speak 510’s in our office, and they work great.

Make sure you silence your phone and laptop.

I like to do a quick audio and camera check before I join a call, most conferencing software will have a screen for this in their settings. Check your Mic and Camera to make sure the correct devices are selected.

Pay Attention

If you aren’t presenting or on camera, it can be easy to pull out your phone and browse Reddit or stare blankly out a window, but try to pay attention having to ask “wait, what did you say again” can be embarrassing.

Put your devices in Do Not Disturb mode so you don’t get sidetracked by text messages or other notifications. iOS has a great feature where your phone will remain silenced until the end of your current calendar item.

For meeting hosts, try to stay on topic and keep people involved in the conversation, this will prevent wandering minds.

If you find a meeting has become sidetracked and the main topic is complete, please don’t hesitate to let people uninvolved in the side topic know they are free drop off.

Keep your desktop clean

If you are going to be sharing your screen, make sure your desktop is not cluttered. Take special care to remove documents with confidential or private information. Remove that funny meme your friend sent you. Just make sure your desktop has nothing that will embarrass you or your company. To make it easier, you can just make a folder called “clutter” and move everything in there.

I’ve already mentioned Do Not Disturb mode several times in this post, but if you are screen sharing and you get an inappropriate text message from a friend, you will regret not silencing your notifications.

Do a camera check before joining video calls

Before you join the meeting fire up your camera and take a look at your background.

Check for clutter. Dirty laundry, trash, alcohol bottles… I have seen all of this, and it’s just unprofessional.

Make sure you don’t have proprietary information up on a whiteboard. If you do client work, this is especially important as it can have legal ramifications.

Check yourself. Look in the mirror, make sure you are as presentable as you would be in person.

Open Questions

Try to avoid asking undirected questions, try to keep them directed at individuals. Asking questions like these will cause one of three things to happen.

  1. Multiple people answer at the same time and they talk over each other
  2. No one talks and you get dead air and have to direct your question at a specific person anyways.
  3. What you want to happen, happens and the correct person and only that person answers.

You get a 1/3 chance for it to work, It’s awkward and you should just avoid it if possible.

If you are running a standup meeting, you get to pick who talks first, don’t open it up to the floor.

In Summary

I hope you found this useful and if you didn’t, great job, you were probably already doing the right thing.

Please share this and perhaps we can make conference calling better for everyone.