Teleconferencing, either audio or video, has become a mainstream activity for keeping connected with geographically dispersed project teams. As technology has matured, conferencing over phone lines or the internet (VOIP) has replaced many cross-continent flights. And, as frequent air travelers know, that is a good thing because commercial flying is not fun anymore.
My weekly schedule always contains dozens of teleconferences – some of which are extremely productive and others almost comical in their inefficiency. I want to make sure that you understand how badly a conference call can be and I was introduced to one of the funniest videos on this recently. Please take a moment to watch Dave Grady on You Tube do an impersonation of “how not to conduct a conference call”
I first began participating in video conferences in the early 1990’s when the connections were direct and the meetings were held in special video conferencing rooms manned by technicians and costing $1,000 per hour. We even “dressed up” for our TV appearances. Today, well let us just say some folks take informal to an entirely new level. If you are interested, here is a link on the history of video conferencing.
However, history is not the motivating thought behind this post. Rather, I want to talk about etiquette and efficiency in making teleconferencing as useful as possible for projects and project managers. See the end of post for two links on what-not-to-do in teleconferencing. I am going to say some things that are so obvious you may want to give me a Homer Simpson DUH! Award. However, I have experienced a violation of every listed “Do” or “Don’t” more than once.
Do’s of Teleconferencing
- Use good equipment. For example, cell phones pick up more ambient noise than landlines. Place microphones in the center of the table when many people are participating.
- Make sure everyone has the phone number or conference link and passcode.
- Be on time. Teleconference productivity really slows down and looses continuity when new people are entering the conversation every couple of minutes. Do not reward poor behavior by waiting – unless it is the boss (remember the acceptable wait time rules you learned in college based on academic rank).
- Schedule teleconference time with due consideration of different time zones.
- Use the mute button on multipoint conferences when not talking.
- Select a quiet place away from office or home noises (including dogs barking, cat’s meowing, or children crying)
- Introduce yourself and acknowledge others before beginning. Unless you know for sure that all participants recognize your voice (or face), use your name before asking or answering questions.
- Have an agenda and follow it.
- Direct questions to an individual or location by name.
- Act interested.
- Designate someone to take notes.
Don’ts of Teleconferencing
- Shout – speak in a normal voice
- Have side conversations or engage in obvious non-conference activities. People can hear phones ring, keyboard clicks and pretzel chewing unless the microphone is muted.
- Get off into the weeds. If participants need to talk about subjects not on the agenda, move that conversation to another place and time.
- Do not put the call on hold – especially if your office phone system defaults to Musak
Additional tips for Videoconferences
- Make sure everyone is visible on camera. Moving the camera during the videoconference is distracting to viewers.
- Do not wear very bright clothes or clothes with busy patterns – they come out looking really weird. Use the self-view on your camera to see how you will appear to remote participants.
- Close drapes or blinds to remove sources of glare.
- Adjust the camera before the conference begins (no one wants to watch you fiddle with the equipment).
- Audio has a slight delay on many connections, so pause briefly before talking or during long comments or presentations.
- Use small movements and gestures and expect a small lag.
- If using slides or other visual materials make sure that you have the right software on your machine and that the projector displays are clear.
- Remember that other can see you – chewing, making paperclip toys, scratching, rolling your eyes, and texting (All those bad habits you developed on conference calls will haunt you).
University of Washington provides examples of bad videoconference behavior