Select the right words. Say them well.


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You’re miles away yet you need to take part in the meeting. Your only choice is to join by phone – and you cringe at the stumbles and misunderstandings that can be just around the corner. Ever have that feeling? It happens a lot – perhaps more than you think if you DON’T cringe at the prospect of a conference call. Here are some ways to help make conference calls a “cringe free zone.”

Name a Quarterback: To make sure your conference call goes well, make it clear who will be running the call. Without that person there will be lots of silence on the line – followed by three people talking all at once as everyone tries to figure out where things are going! The quarterback needs to be knowledgeable, a good listener and someone without too much skin in the game if you’re trying to reach some consensus. Why have the meetings if you aren’t going to make progress, right? A person who understands the middle ground can really help the process.

Set a time limit: As with any good meeting, let people know we are not here forever. We meet, we discuss, we make some progress, we end!

Have an agenda: Similarly, get everyone an agenda so they can be prepared and ready to make a worthwhile contribution. With a roadmap in place you know when you are heading in the wrong direction – and so does everyone else on the call! Leave enough room for healthy discussion but set limits with the agenda so everyone knows this will be a valuable use of their time.

Speak Up! If part of the group is together in one place, sitting around a speaker phone, make sure someone there is paying attention to volume levels. We’ve all been part of calls where the listener just tunes out because it’s too hard to hear what is being said back at the office. I always lean in to the speaker phone a little just to encourage others to remember the people on the call by phone are important, too.

Use the Mute button: If you are taking part from a busy airport – as I have many times – learn how to mute your phone until you need to speak. Without that little trick you can be messing up the entire call with the overriding noise from your phone!

Monitor your contributions: Are you dominating the call? Are you non-existent? Neither is a good position. Monitor how much you contribute. Make good comments, but keep them to a limited number. Taking part in a meeting from a distance means you can’t watch those all-important body language cues people use to tell you what they REALLY think. Say what needs to be said but stay focused. As my friend and colleague Gregory Torrez (the inspiration for this Monthly Memo) reminds us: “Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.”


Please follow along through the month @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: