Call me old-fashioned, but I can't get used to conference calls. I miss in-person meetings, especially with clients or vendors. Now that I'm self-employed, the lack of in-person time is even worse. Do you have any suggestions for making conference calls seem more true-to-life?
Preparing for meetings outside the office has got to be one of the most fabulous parts of the business regime. In the morning, you get to choose your clothes and preen as if you're going on a date. Often you get to take your own car and get reimbursed for an impressively large parking expense in a miraculously convenient yet expensive downtown garage. When you arrive at your destination, you are treated as a fabulous guest - being greeted by a receptionist, shown to an improbably clean table with an artful display of magazines while you wait, then escorted to a well appointed conference room where someone offers you coffee, juice, and bagels.
During the meeting itself, you get to play amateur psychologist to attribute motives to others. "By his expensive suit and golf tan, Charles must believe that whatever the group decides, he gets the final veto." "Sylvia looks as though she wants everyone to understand she's in charge, but that stick pin is disastrous." "Leonard is clearly the scapegoat on the team: just look at that posture."
You're right: meetings are more fabulous than conference calls. But you can still get into plenty of mischief on a conference call. In fact, one of my favorite Superladies back East actually hung up on the Vice President of the United States during a conference call - to give birth to twins. But even on a more mundane call, if you're part of a team, you can play Meeting Bingo, a game in which everyone tries to work in special phrases of MBA jargon or wildcard words such as "core competencies," "disintermediation," or "Howard Stern."
Conference calls provide great opportunities for power tactics and side conversations, since you can use instant messaging software or even email in place of notes under the table. If the call gets dull I sometimes chat with my stylist or write quick little to-do lists for my People. But be careful: someone might ask you a direct question.
The invisibility of the people on a conference call has its advantages as well. The burning question on everyone's mind is, "What are you wearing?" As a self-employed person, you know that "business casual" takes on new meaning when you're commuting from your boudoir.
If you're taking the call in a car, try to stay within an area with good coverage. But put something on before you go out.
Conference call tips
- Set an agenda in advance.
- Be ready when the phone rings.
- If you're cutting it close, delegate someone to pick up.
- If you're initiating, learn how to use the conferencing system ahead of time.
- Identify yourself by name even if your phone system does it automatically.
- Greet each person by name.
- Don't leave out the small talk.
- Repeat names during the call.
- If you're a silent participant, resist the urge to talk.
- Let one person speak at a time, so that no one's words get cut off.
- Stick to your role: are you leading? facilitating? lurking?
- If someone gets cut off, the party who initiated the call should call back.
- End on time.