Five years spent working from home has provided me with my fair share of conference call snafus. Truth be told, this article could easily be titled “7 Ways I Humiliated Myself Via Skype.” Fortunately, armed with a small dose of common sense, mastering the teleconference can be simpler than uploading an email attachment. In other words? I’ve learned the following lessons the hard way, so you don’t have to.
1. Be on time
Much like an in-office meeting, punctuality is crucial. Calling in three to five minutes ahead of schedule will boost your credibility, and you won’t have to lie about locking yourself out while taking out the trash again. (Trust me, that excuse only works once.)
2. Keep it down
Getting caught putting your dishes away when you’re supposed to be on page twelve of that spreadsheet? Humiliating. Try your best to avoid anything noisy. Can’t guarantee a quiet setting? Use the mute button so your supervisor isn’t subjected to your extremely vocal chihuahua who just spied a squirrel out the window.
3. Know your equipment
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the conference call software and your personal device’s communication settings. This ensures you’ll be able to utilize important features (like mute) without technical difficulty. This is particularly vital during a video call. I once spent twenty minutes haphazardly wolfing down a sandwich while being projected on a big screen before realizing I hadn’t actually turned my webcam off. (To my credit, I had at least figured out the “mute” part.)
4. Mind your table manners
Many would argue that eating during a conference call is a professional faux pas. But sometimes, a busy schedule calls for multitasking. My office frequently holds calls over the lunch hour, where munching on a salad is completely acceptable. If you’re not on video, and are able to mute yourself for long enough to take a few bites, eating during other times of the day is fine. If it’s a call where you’ll be speaking frequently, best to wait until afterwards for that hot cup of soup. And always choose foods that don’t require both hands or tons of concentration to consume. Violently choking on a mango you’re hand peeling during the quarterly marketing review is something you’ll never live down. (Again, trust me on this one.)
5. Dress the part
Looking professional during a video call is a top priority, even if you aren’t actually in the office. I don’t care if you’re business from the waist up, bedtime from the waist down; simply make sure you appear presentable and well groomed on screen. The same goes for the background you’ll be sitting in front of. Take a few minutes to de-clutter your surroundings and remove any potentially embarrassing items. Translation? Forgetting to relocate the naked mannequin torso that lives behind your office chair won’t win you any brownie points. (Fortunately, my co-workers have a sense of humor.)
6. Stay on task
Shopping for that perfect trench coat or silently snickering at your friend’s latest Tweets during a call may be tempting, but do your best to stay focused and present. While reading those leave-in conditioner reviews on Amazon might be exponentially more interesting than combing through last month’s numbers, you don’t want to be a deer in headlights when asked your opinion on something you weren’t paying attention to.
7. Speak up!
Make sure your voice is clear and audible, without resorting to shouting. Communicating over the phone can be tricky—try to allow brief pauses before responding to avoid interrupting your supervisor or cutting that really important client off. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to contribute and share your opinion. Just because you aren’t in the room doesn’t mean you can’t have a say. Your colleagues have gone out of their way to make sure you’re included — use this to your advantage!
Have you had any embarrassing conference call moments? Tell us about them in the comments!
Ask Warren Buffett, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., for his conference call tips!