How to Avoid Having Awkward Business Conference Calls

Video conference calls are helpful tools in conducting business across distances. They enable remote workforces and can connect you with customers that live far away. However, conference calls are not known for how smoothly they go. In fact, they are rather famous for how awkward they can be. Everyone has a story about an annoying conference call they witnessed that left them dreading their next one.

How awkward do people find them, exactly? ShindelRock says:

“Some difficulties in telephone meetings were highlighted in a recent survey by administrative staffing service Office Team. It found that 37 percent of office workers said multiple people talking at the same time was the most distracting behavior on a conference call. Next was excessive background noise (24 percent), attendees not paying attention (9 percent), and attendees putting the call on hold and prompting hold music or attendees talking when on mute (7 percent each).

Of course, video conferences are different, but they still face many of the same issues. Do you find the things mentioned above distracting? If so, how often do you come across them? There are ways to make virtual meetings less awkward (and more productive). Here are a few ways to make sure your video conferences aren’t cringeworthy.

Set everything up beforehand

A significant amount of awkwardness stems from how people present themselves. Video conferencing is almost like having people in the room with you, but unlike in-person meetings, everyone’s background is different. Some people might be outside. Some might have barking dogs in the background. Others may even be in their pajamas. People tend to care more about their appearances in physical meetings because they are more keenly aware of how people perceive them. Presentation matters, though—so don’t fall into the temptation of neglect.

Dress appropriately. No one can tell if you are wearing pajama pants, but wear a nicer shirt so that you look professional (and brush your hair and teeth to avoid unwelcome distractions). Select a background that won’t detract from you: people should listen to and watch you when you speak, so make sure your environment is free of clutter and scene-stealing objects. Make sure your space is well-lit, too; avoid sitting directly under a light source, find angles that flatter your face, and sit a natural distance from the camera.

Use the right system

Using a system designed for conference calls will spare you a great deal of trouble. While there are many platforms on the market that enable virtual meetings, not all of them offer a robust range of features that make meetings more efficient. You want to trust that your camera won’t freeze and your audio won’t drop, so take advantage of conference call services that are reliable and comprehensive.

Once you decide on a platform, learn how to use it. It will be awkward if you have to take a moment, in front of all your colleagues, to find a specific button. Familiarize yourself with how the system works so that you can operate it skillfully and assist others if need be.

Establish a few ground rules

One of the worst things about traditional conference calls is that they lack visual social cues many people rely on when speaking. If you’re listening to someone on the phone and they pause, how do you know if they’re finished, looking something up online, or simply taking a breath? If you seize the moment to speak, you then have to engage in the awkward exchange of, “Sorry, I wasn’t done, “Oh, my apologies, continue,” and then everyone listening cringes.

Video conferencing helps with much of this, but it’s still not perfect. Ground rules for conference calls can include guidelines like always requesting permission to speak, introducing yourself each time you speak, and addressing people by name when asking a question so that everyone does not answer all at once.

Appoint a leader

Calls can be grating when no one knows how to hold each other accountable. Before you begin, appoint a host—such as the meeting’s organizer—to guide the conversation. If people start talking about things that are irrelevant to the session’s purpose, the facilitator can steer the conversation back in the right direction. The leader, so to speak, should also create an agenda for everyone to follow so that the meeting is as productive as possible. They can fill in awkward silences by moving on to the next subject.

Conference calls can be awkward, but there are steps you can take to make them less so. How do you go out of your way to make virtual meetings comfortable for everyone?

image credit: Business Conference Calls via LightField Studios/shutterstock

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