Four New Rules for Conference-Call Etiquette

Last Updated Jan 30, 2011 11:35 AM EST

Conference calls suck. You know it and I know it, but apparently the rest of the world doesn't -- because they're the ones making the calls so sucky.

See, schools don't teach conference-call etiquette, so most people have no clue how to behave. And it is precisely this lack of etiquette that inspired Meeting Boy to compile four new rules about conference calls -- and the four punishments that should result from violating them.

Here's one great example:

2. Bad connections.
The preponderance of VOIP and cellphones in the workplace gives people the illusion that they can always connect, but really it only gives them the ability to connect poorly.
  • Cellphones drop calls and people keep rejoining, which the automated voice interrupts to tell us each time. Are there any more annoying words than "Who just joined?"
  • VOIP often creates some awful echo chamber, and anyone using it sounds like Darth Vader. "Luke, I'm your father. Join me on the Dark Side. Together we'll rule the universe. And also check out this PowerPoint about the projections for next year's Empire sales figures."
If you're having trouble hearing us, then we're having trouble hearing you. And whatever it is can probably wait until we can all be on good phones. The only reason to call in on bad equipment and try to make it work is if you're on the battlefield and you need to call in an airstrike before the artillery wipes out your position.

RULE #2: If you don't have a good connection, don't bother.

PENALTY: Violators will be forced to take dictation from a chatterbox who's calling from their cell while walking through Grand Central Station tunnels on the way to their train. Until they take their own life.

Can I get an "Amen!" But it's not just cell phones: speakerphones sound just as bad, if not worse. And when two or three people are sitting around one, everyone sounds like they're miles away. Go to your own offices, people, and put on a headset! Do you want this conference call to be productive or annoying?

Yeah, I have pretty strong feelings about this. And I definitely concur with Meeting Boy's other rules, such as muting your phone when you're not speaking and making sure never to put the call on hold if your phone system has hold music.

What "rules" do you wish you could apply to conference calls? (My pick: one per month, maximum.) Let's conference in the comments!

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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.