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My First Conference Call

"Kellogg" brand "candle stick&q...

I usually do my best work by phone. usually. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m fifty years old. Yet I find that there are still so many things to do and see in this world – so many more firsts. In fact, this week I had a first. I participated in my first ever conference call.

Conference calls are a common way of doing business in occupations other than mine. I’ve learned this from listening to people who talk about “dialing in to a meeting”. I’m used to walking into meetings where I can see and distract my friends. Because I’ve never done it, dialing in to a meeting seemed exotic and something to look forward to.

Apparently Not

Then, last week, my friend Sally sent me an email asking me to participate in a conference call about a database we are having created for our project. I jumped at the chance. It wasn’t that I thought Sally couldn’t handle the call. I took the opportunity because I wanted to tell people I needed to find some where quiet to work because I had a conference call. I did that, I told people. I felt so…adult!

I received a phone number and a code that would allow me into the meeting. Just before the appointed hour, I called and entered my code. A mechanized voice welcomed me and asked me to speak my name. I did that. I spoke my name with great diction and elocution. The mechanized voice welcomed me again and gave me a list of options. Pressing two for a list of people who were in attendance for the meeting seemed like a good option.

Upon pressing two, I heard the recordings of everyone’s “speak your name” moment. I heard my name in my own voice, then Sally’s, then our friend Don’s. Also present were three men from the software company who, according to their recordings, were Schm, Pierre*, and that noise you make when you clear your throat. We’ll call that last one Mr. Fleming. Why? Because I don’t know how to spell that sound, and calling him Mr. Phlegming would be way over the top.

After my first conference call, I have to say that I am not enamored with the concept.

Conference Calls Are Overrated

I found my first conference call frustrating and disappointing.

Because the visual cues are missing in these “meetings”, no one is quite sure when one person is finished with their point and the next person can have their say. I tend to speak quietly and deliberately. This isn’t a problem for me in a one on one call, nor is it a problem when I’m in a meeting and people can see that I’ve got more to say. In a conference call, a pause is an opening for people to start talking over me. Not good.

My friends point out to me that conference calls are nice because if someone makes you mad, you can hit the mute button, make fun of that person, and then un-mute. I’d contend that what conference calls lack is a mute button for the other participants. In a face to face meeting, I can mute people with my “be quiet before my stare sets your hair on fire” look. You can’t stare in a conference call, or mute the other participants.

I did like that I could text Sally and tell her that it sounded like Pierre was in his bathroom. I did not like that I was not able to see Don trying not to look at me when Schm said that the company had “a dedication to an elaboration of understanding”. I do not like that I’m not really sure if it was Schm or Mr. Fleming who spoke of the dedication to an elaboration of understanding. I couldn’t tell which of them was speaking.

Maybe conference calls work better when all the parties know one another. Of the three software guys – Schm, Mr. Fleming and Pierre, the only one I could identify when he was speaking was Pierre. Pierre sounded exactly like Pierre should sound. Schm and Fleming were pretty much interchangeable.

Thanks Everyone, Let’s Wrap This Meeting Up

Now I’ve had my first conference call experience. I expect to have another soon. In the interim, here are everyone’s assigned tasks:

Pierre, see if you can find your way out of the bathroom before the next meeting.

Schm, you find a way to explain what SQL is. Alternatively, you may move toward making decisions about SQL without my input.

Mr. Fleming, you develop a button that I will call the “Dude, shut up” button. I’ll work on the logo for the button.

All three of you should work toward becoming more elaborate in your understanding of me. Not interrupting me would be a great first step.

Thank you everyone, that was a productive session.

Yeah. Productive.

* Pierre is the only real name that appears in this post

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30 Comments on “My First Conference Call”

  1. Wendi says:

    Can you please ask Mr. Fleming to expedite the “Dude, shut up” button? I have an unending series of conference calls and that thing would be worth it’s weight in gold.

    Sorry that you had to learn the sad truth…conference calls aren’t nearly as glamorous as they sound like they will be. Did you maybe use your “listening” time to doodle in the margins of your notepad and come up with material for a 5 Minutes post?

    • omawarisan says:

      God, they went on and on. I made notes for this post and for an upcoming series on how I was raised by clowns.

      A five minutes post is due. The drawing is so exhausting.

  2. Debbie says:

    Love your description of a conference call. Being self-employed, I’ve never had the “fun” of participating in one. Perhaps video conferencing would be a better option? At least then you’d have some of the visual cues (though I suspect there’d still be ways of mucking up the conversation!)

    • omawarisan says:

      They had a video conferencing option, but a video camera in my laptop is above my pay grade. I almost went home to use my personal laptop.

      Self employed. I want to try that.

  3. I wish there was a “my hand is raised” button so that people’s phones would light up when I had something important to say.

  4. “If someone makes you mad, you can hit the mute button, make fun of that person, and then un-mute.”—That’s the best part of the conference call.

    In my office, sometimes 3 people will be on the same call with people in other places. The hallway is like Surround Sound.

  5. Laura says:

    I have more conference calls than in-person meetings, and since it’s pretty common for people in my line of work to do some or all of their work from home, about half the people on any call might be calling in from home. This week I called in to a weekly call with about a dozen participants, and at one point, my cat meowed and someone said “that’s Laura’s cat”. You know your group has had too many conference calls when people start recognizing the individual cats’ voices.

    • omawarisan says:

      A dozen people on a call? That must be a madhouse.
      I think I’d feel like I was supposed to be dressed like I was going to a meeting if I dialed in from home.

      • Laura says:

        Well, there’s an agenda, and one person (who I’ll call the chair) runs the call. So basically the chair calls on one person to present something, and then that’s followed by some discussion/questions (typically involving maybe 2-3 people), and then the chair calls on the next person to present, and so on.

        This works because most people are only interested in some of the things discussed on the call. The rest of the time, you can put your phone on mute, do some other work, and pretend the call you’re half-listening to is the radio.

      • Blond Stranger says:

        You’d get over that very, very quickly if you worked from home regularly…I promise!

  6. That said, SQL = structured query language. I might could help with that, if I knew how to dial in. I’m notoriously bad at phones.

    I’d have said something sooner, but something in your eyes made me worried you might set my hair on fire.

    Neither here nor there.

    We have video conferencing and I regularly train people in an office far, far away in another galaxy. During a recent session, their screen went black, so they figured I couldn’t hear what they were saying. They were wrong.

    Or maybe they thought that mute button mock-up was the real deal.

    • omawarisan says:

      That’s what SQL is? You’re in, I’ll get you the code for the next call.

      Oh please tell me when the video came back on you had a sign behind you that said “audio and video are two separate functions.”

  7. if there was ever an example of a bad idea of something we do just because technology lets us it’s the conference call. One time we used to have Monday morning conference calls, agenda unspecified, so we could all keep in touch.

  8. We Found Him Captain! says:

    The worst part of conference calls is that when you have identified the moron in the group, you cannot get him to pull your index finger, and see the expression on his face.

  9. spencercourt says:

    >hit the mute button, make fun of that person, and then un-mute.

    Assuming they figure out the “mute” button. I’ve been in many conference calls where you can hear all sorts of things in the background. During a “break” we heard some folks say some unflattering things about us, not realizing they were not on mute and that we were right there in the room.

    I await your post on your first experience with a “webinar”….

  10. I laughed when I read your description of your first conference call. I spend most of my days on conference calls (have been for years) and CAN’T WAIT until I never have to be on one again (only 1 more year until I can gleefully retire). you are so fortunate that this isn’t something you have to do all the time. I yearn for the rare face-to-face meetings we get to have, lucky if we can have them once a year.

    • omawarisan says:

      Welcome to Blurt, Cheryl! I’m retiring not long after you…I’ve got 18 months.

      I’m more of a face to face meeting guy. A lot of mine occur with really depressed people on bridges. I’d do a dozen of those before I’d seek out another conference call.

  11. mikegee64 says:

    I’ve often said that any phone that has a mute button should also have a deaf button.

    Even further, I think that pressing the “pound key” should cause a small hand (about the size of a baby’s hand) to come out of the other person’s phone’s mouth piece and slap them across the face. Not hard, just enough to get their attention and make the point that they are saying something stupid.

  12. Betty says:

    Your first?! As a home-based worker, I’ve participated in conference calls almost every Tuesday afternoon for the last five and a half years. I find it’s a great time to dust the office, shop zappos.com or sephora.com, or simply recline on the bed. There are about 8 of us calling in from home offices, with a few groups of office people calling from NY, MN, MA. Lately, one of the most annoying people on our team has been beating a particular topic to death. Every time we get to the point in the call where she starts in on her topic, all you can hear are different chime text tones as all of the home-basers text each other variations on the STFU theme. Professional maturity at its best!


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