I don't mean to mislead you. This article is far more about conference call “Don'ts” than it is “Do's”. In fact, when we boil it down, there is only one “Do”.

But what is the fun in that? We all know the really good stuff resides in the “Don'ts”. So here goes.

I was speaking with a friend last week when the topic of conference calls came up. Specifically it was the really stupid things people do on conference calls that was the point of the discussion. My friend, Sllaw Kram, whose name I have changed to protect his identity, is a big social media muckety muck on LinkedIn. In Denmark. Sllaw is Danish and has never been to St. Louis. Really.

But that is not important.

Sllaw was on a conference call recently where some participants did some things that sound, to be kind, rather disruptive to the call in general. This led to a discussion about all of the things that can go wrong when a group of associates and strangers gathers via a telephonic device. And that, my friends, is what has brought us here today. All of the following points I present have actually happened to me or my friend Sllaw on various conference calls over our long and semi-virtuous careers. This is a list borne of experience. 

So, without further ado, here is my list of Top Ten Do's and Don'ts for people engaged in a conference call:

  1. Don't put the call on hold – Seriously. Why would you do that? Do you know that a lot of phone systems emit a steady beep for the listener(s) on the other end when you place them on hold? Or worse, your phone system might have that god awful invention known as music on hold. This is by far one of the biggest bone headed maneuvers I have encountered. Really great. You are off getting a cup of coffee or sitting on the john while 72 people trying to discuss statistical anomalies in their widget production are listening to an elevator version of “The Girl from Ipanema”.
  2. Don't put the call on speaker – If you are not part of a physical group in one room, this is a no brainer. There is nothing like the cacophonous echo of your office or cubicle to enhance the quality of the call and enjoyment for all the other participants. No one is interested in listening to you when you sound like you have your head in a toilet bowl. 20 feet away. Pick up the handset for God's sake.
  3. Don't call in from a cell phone – This is a difficult option these days. Still a cell phone doesn't carry the full duplex quality of a landline telephone. If you absolutely need to be on a cell, try not to be in a vehicle. Doing 90 miles an hour. With the windows down. And your head out the window.
  4. Don't type your personal memoirs – Again, seriously. It is very annoying to be listening to a call when someone somewhere sounds like they are typing the long version of War and Peace. The rat-a-tat-tat of the keyboard is a major distraction. This is amplified if you have placed your call on speaker.
  5. Heavy breathing or coughing – If you are a panter, a wheezer, a blower, or a whistler – or are dying of emphysema – if you generate any loud or heavy breathing, please keep that in mind when you are on a group call. My friend Mark, I mean Sllaw, was on such a call recently. He endured someone who coughed, and coughed, and coughed, and coughed, only pausing, in Sllaws words, to “hock up a loogie”. What a pleasant thought. No one wants to try to maintain conversation continuity while they are competing against the chugging sound of the little engine that could.
  6. Don't talk to others in the room – Really. It is so delightful listening to you tell your co-worker what sandwich to pick up at the Piggly Wiggly deli counter. Please. Regale us some more with your tales of office gossip or useful instructions. The rest of us can wait while you carry on that external conversation.
  7. Don't pass gas – Yes, this has happened. If you are on the call, doing the one cheek crawl, take this tip, don't let it rip. You might not feel like it, but everyone will be better off for your sacrifice.
  8. Don't eat your sandwich from the Piggly Wiggly – A personal peeve of mine is talking to someone on the phone who is engaged in active conversation while in the process of exorbitant mastication. For those of you in North Dakota, masticating will not cause you to need glasses. It simply means eating. You are thinking of something else entirely. The smacking, slurping, chomping and gulping is an inharmonious contribution to any telephone call. It is delightful, when they speak, playing the game “What was that word”? This is even better on a group call. A veritable orgy of clamorous noise. If you wish to eat while on a conference call, bring enough for everyone.
  9. Don't check your email – Actually it is not just the Outlook chime that will tell everyone someone is not giving their full attention to the call. This would apply to any noise producing electronic device, including game apps on your Smartphone.
  10. And Finally – DO use your mute button – It is there for a reason. Use it. A simple rule of thumb is, if you are not speaking, the mute should be on. With that simple gesture, the gentle push of a button, you can virtually ignore the previous nine points. You can heavily inhalate, masticate and flatulate while running naked in your cubicle hocking up loogies for all we care. No one will ever know. Well, no one on the call, anyway. You might have some explaining to do to the folks in HR.

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