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Career and Interview Tips

How To Run A Conference Call Without Driving Everyone Else Crazy

Conference calls are a fact of life in a distributed team environment, Robert Duffy VP of Engineering at Time Inc. talks to PowerToFly about how to survive them.

With a team distributed across three continents, we make heavy use of audio and video conferencing, it’s part of the daily rhythm of business. In any meeting that requires a group of people gathering you want to make sure that things go smoothly, and that the least amount of time is spent messing with technology or running the meeting. Conference calls are no exception and there are a couple of things you can do to help.

Equipment is key.

Buy the best audio equipment you can afford. Conference calls are about audio and the difference it makes being on a good line vs a bad line is well worth the extra spend. If you are hard to hear it can lose you business or credibility. There is nothing more frustrating than someone on a conference call that sounds like they are talking to you from the inside of a potato. If you are calling from a cell phone the biggest difference you can make is just using the manufacturer’s supplied headphones that have a mic built in.

Trial Run New Technology.

Always do a dry run of new technology before your calls. You don’t want to start using something and have it not work. If you are switching any piece of technology like a new phone, new headset or new conference line, get with a friend or colleague before your calls and try it out. It’s important to find out how you sound using the new equipment, so compare it to the old equipment. We’ve found that different voices work better on different devices, so even if a piece of technology is working for one person it might not work for others.

Speak up, and stay close to speaker phones.

Only use the speaker-phone on your cell phone as a last resort. It’s hard to listen to in a group setting and the microphone doesn’t pick up nearly as much of the conversation as you think it does. If you are going to be on conference calls frequently invest in some of the polycom gear, it’s really good.

Call Etiquette

Know Who is Driving

If your conference calls are anything like mine, you have a short time to get a lot done. It’s important to quickly identify who is driving the call and who will keep people on track. The leader should tell everyone what is going to happen, the call should happen and then the leader summarizes the actions.

If you are the leader, be early and take roll call. Know in advance who needs to be on the call to get the outcome you need. Wait for a quorum but then know you can get started early. If you have enough people on the call, ask someone to chase late-comers down while you make small talk.

Always summarize the next steps on the call and in a follow up email and make sure every action has an owner.

Have Your Intro Nailed.

Most conference calls with new people meeting each other start with “a round of intros”. Have a quick (less than 30s) intro in your back pocket and you’ll be prepared for this if it comes up. Keep your intro short and tailor it to the audience and project. I always like to let people know why I’m interested in the meeting and what I’m looking for.

Stay on mute, until you don’t need to.

Remember to place yourself on mute. There is nothing worse that trying to listen to someone speak while some other caller is typing, driving or trying to eat lunch. If someone else doesn’t mute and disrupts the call, it’s perfectly OK to say “can everyone go on mute when they are not talking”. Remember to take yourself off mute and don’t disrupt the flow of the call by fumbling for the unmute button.

Learn how to Interrupt, Let Others Interrupt You.

Interrupting in person is a bad thing, on the phone it’s a necessity because you can not always read the other person’s body languages. If you are speaking pause often enough for questions so people can ask them.

Beware of group questions.

As a rule of thumb don’t ask group questions when there are more than 5 people. Group questions, that require a round robin response are difficult to coordinate. If you do want to do this, pay attention at roll-call and ask specific people questions rather than “is everyone OK with that plan”, “how is everyone doing this morning”, etc.

Smile, Even When Not On Camera

If you are on an audio-only call it’s even more important to smile. Smiling has a surprisingly large impact in the way you speak. Get in the habit of smiling on the phone, even when you are off camera, haven’t had coffee and it’s 5am. Others on the call will subconsciously hear the difference and perceive you as being friendly and collaborative.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask

Always ask people to speak up, stop having side conversations or stop typing. I once asked a group of executives to spend the next 30 seconds clearing their lunch rather than have the call be disrupted by people shuffling sandwiches and chip bags. Don’t be afraid to ask people to stop doing something or start doing something else — of course do it politely with a smile on your face.

Make Notes of Questions You Have

Cross them off if they are answered so you don’t repeat questions. The odds are high that other people listening on the call will have the same questions as you.

And as always, have fun!


How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.

Autodesk, Inc.

How Embracing What She Doesn’t Know Led Autodesk’s Arezoo Riahi to a Fulfilling Career in DEI

Arezoo Riahi isn't a big fan of the "fake it till you make it" approach. She'd rather ask for the help she needs and learn from it.

Autodesk's Director of Diversity and Belonging joined the design software company from the nonprofit world after a long career in connecting people from different cultures. While her work had been deeply rooted in DEI values, there were certain parts of the strategy-building aspects to her new role that she wasn't sure about.

"If you know it, show up like you know it. If you don't know it, you shouldn't fake it. And Autodesk didn't shame me for not knowing everything. They helped me, and the entire team, by providing the resources that we needed, bringing in outside expertise to help teach us when we were in new territory," says Arezoo, who has been at Autodesk for three years now, during which she's been promoted twice into her current role.

We sat down with Arezoo to hear more about her path into DEI work, what she thinks the future of that work must include, and what advice she has for women looking to build fulfilling careers, from knowing what you don't know and beyond.

LogMeIn Inc.

Behind-the-Scenes: Sales Interview Process at LogMeIn

Get an inside look at the interview process for sales roles at LogMeIn, one of the largest SaaS companies providing remote work technology, from Michael Gagnon, Senior Manager of Corporate Account Executive Sales.

Procore Technologies Inc

How Being an Open Member of the LGBTQIA+ Community Has Helped Procore’s Alex Zinik Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Alex Zinik wasn't surprised that she started her career in education—she decided she would become a teacher when she was just in third grade.

She was surprised while working as a paraeducator in the school system and preparing to become a special education teacher, she discovered that it didn't feel quite right. "I didn't know if that's what I really wanted to do," she recalls.

So a friend suggested she take a job during her off summers at construction software company Procore. She thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try out this new challenge, and if she needed to, she could go back to the school district once the summer was over.

"Five summers later, I'm still here!" she says, smiling. "And I see myself here for many more years. I just fell in love with the company, the culture, and with the career growth opportunities I was presented with."

As part of our Pride month celebrations, Alex, currently the Senior Executive Assistant to the CEO at Procore, sat down with us to share how a common fear—the fear of being found out—underlay the imposter syndrome she felt when pivoting to an industry in which she lacked experience, and the anxiety she often felt before coming out to her friends and family about her sexuality.

Read on for her insight on overcoming negative thought patterns, being yourself, and paying it forward.


The Outlook That Helps CSL’s Paula Manchester Invest in Herself and Her Team

If you told Paula Manchester that you weren't good at math, she wouldn't believe you.

"That's a global indictment," she says. "'I'm not good at math' implies that you don't have the ability to nurture that muscle. And then I'd ask what kind of math? There's a lot to math."

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