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Etiquette for Conference Calls and Virtual Meetings

Of all the changes brought by technology in our offices, the most significant to me is virtual meetings.  We think nothing of scheduling an interview by phone or video conference these days and Skype, Facetime and Go to Meeting allows us to do so conveniently from our laptops or phones. 

My company has offices across the country and I report to people in different cities and time zones.  It’s crazy, really, how easy and seamless it is to share documents and desktops from pretty much anywhere, anytime.  Naturally, etiquette rules for these new practices help us build relationships and conduct business better, so please read on for some timely tips.

Invitations:

If you are hosting a meeting, extending the invitation to attend in writing via email is the easiest form for all.  You should give attendees at least 48 hours notice, and include the agenda, list of participants, and means of response (a calendar invitation is highly recommended).  To ensure attendance, send a reminder the day prior with time, location and list of any materials attendees should bring. 

If you are invited to a meeting, you should respond immediately.  If you can’t attend, briefly explain why so that your absence is seen as justified and perhaps allow the host to reschedule.  If you’re unsure you can attend, then respond immediately and indicate that you may have a conflict.  Something along the lines of “I may have a conflict.  Can I let you know tomorrow?” then do let the host know as soon as possible.  If you miss a meeting, ask a colleague what you missed and if you have any assigned tasks.  And if you attend, be on time and be prepared.

Successful Conference calls:

  1. Be mindful of time: promptness and time zones, that is.  Attendees can be anywhere, and time zone differences can be hard to keep straight.  I seem to always go the wrong direction when calculating Pacific and Eastern times from my own Central.  Calendar invites are especially helpful in this regard, as they recognize the particular time zone of each invitee and update if the time zone changes with travel.
  2. At the start of the call, let everyone know who is on the call and have each person introduce or identify themselves.  Knowing who is on the call is helpful information and hearing each person’s voice will allow the identification of speakers. 
  3. Limit external noises and disturbing noises – paper shuffling, typing, eating and cell phone rings.
  4. Establish the agenda and length of time and follow it as closely as possible.
  5. Mute button – make sure it’s on if you want it, or off if you’re speaking.  I’ve spent minutes chatting away before finally realizing no one was hearing my brilliant contributions.
  6. Hold button – does your hold feature have music?  This is critical to know, because if you use the hold button, all the call participants will hear it!
  7. Consider sharing a desk top or using Google docs with relevant information so that people have something to look at and hold their attention. 
  8. Save 5-10 minutes before the scheduled end time to summarize and/or reiterate action items.  

Best Practices for Virtual Meetings

Personally, I love GoToMeeting and Facetime because they are really easy to use and work so well with my iPhone.  The clarity and quality of visual and audio is amazing, and I still can’t believe I do it all from the palm of my hand in the car or airport.  Best practices for virtual meetings include:

  • Use a private room or location, maybe an office with a door that you can close, to reduce noise, distractions, interruptions and confidentiality.
  • Be mindful of your background and position yourself with proper lighting and make sure your surroundings are clean, not overly personal and uncluttered.  Avoid food or drinks in the screen.
  • Inform participants if the meeting is being recorded, if there is an open microphone or if others are in the room outside of the screen visibility.

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