How to Survive a Conference Call: 5 Steps

Posted by Bernie Reifkind on September 14, 2011

Conference calls are not for the faint of heart. 

Consider this: a conference call requests that participants become part of a single phone call to conduct a multi-dialogue conversation in which a topic will hopefully be moved forward. Whew!

That’s not easy when more than 2 people are on the phone at the same time.  Every one wants to be heard or at least recognized as a worthy participant.  The key to survival is to understand the advantage and disadvantage of the telephone as your stage.  And of course to be prepared.

No matter the topic or the urgency, conference calls can feel just like a high school popularity contest.  Everyone wants to shine.  

For the most part, conference calls can feel like public speaking which is a common fear shared by most people.  What kind of fear?

The fear of failure or possible ridicule.  Who wants to sound foolish?  No one.  Of course you can hide behind the phone, but always remember that this is still a public forum. 

So how do you survive a telephone conference call when you were not the one to initiate it? 

Here are 5 steps to surviving a conference call:

1.  Arrive the call, early:  When you are one of the first participants to a conference call, listen in to others… just might pick up a few tidbits of key information.  When you announce that you have arrived, if others are already present be friendly and courteous but listen keenly to any information that gets shared.  This information could give you a huge advantage during the actual call.  Conversely, be careful not to reveal any information when you arrive early.  Give nothing away other than complete friendliness.

2.  Understand the topic:  Do some research on the topic immediately upon learning that you are asked to be a participant in a phone call.  Keep a pen/pencil and paper handy to take notes during the call, but learn what really underlies the topic and the reason for the conference call.  In many cases, conference calls are allegedly about one topic and then it leads to another.  It is incumbent upon you to not only understand the initial topic, but to prepare for where the subject could lead. 

3.  Be “present” throughout the call:  It’s a huge mistake to check your email, text or to surf the Internet during a conference call.  With technology today, you can hear someone typing over the phone, but more importantly staying alert and present during a conference call keeps you in the dialogue if you are called upon to speak.  Do not think that others are not aware that you are surfing the Internet while being involved in a phone call.  It’s disrespectful, period.

4.  Upgrade your like-ability quotient:  Being on the phone with others (all at the same time) is a tricky business so when it’s your time to speak, be friendl, kind, complimentary and most importantly: smile.  People do business with people they like.  In addition, remind yourself to not lose your temper-no matter what-if there is a disagreement.  You can say things like: “Oh, I hadn’t considered that….what a wonderful suggestion.” Remember that the other participants have other agendas.  Make nice, even if it hurts.

5.  Participate appropriately:  Do not remain silent for too long.  Speak when it is appropriate, but know when to shut up!  Brevity is king, during a conference call.  This is not a platform for you to explain ideas, it is a chance to listen and then give a brief response but you must speak and be perceived (even if you are not) as being a vital part of the dialogue.  Silence can be a sign of respect in letting others talk but too much silence can be disastrous in how you are being perceived.  Over the phone preception is everything. 

In summary, preparation is key in a successful conference call.  Allow yourself the time to think and plan as far ahead as possible.  Be early, behave and be yourself.

I am Bernie Reifkind, CEO and founder of Premier Search, Inc.  I can be reached at 1(800) 801-1400 or email at  I welcome your phone call.

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