If that headline means nothing to you, then you clearly don’t work in business. Or are still in high school. Because otherwise, you know: conference calls are recipes for disaster.
I mean, even a routine weekend call with my parents holding separate extensions in their home usually has at least one snag. (Namely, my dad deciding to take that moment to untwist the cord, which makes a crackling noise, prompting my mom to yell, “John! What the hell are you doing?”)
So take many people, put them on a shared line for 60 minutes and see what happens.
First, there is always THAT PERSON. You know the one. The person who – no matter how long s/he has worked at the company and how many calls s/he has been on – forgets the cardinal rule: Never Put The Call On Hold.
When pushing the HOLD button, that person sends a complex message, kind of like:
- I’m the most important person on this call, so just cool your heels until I’m back.
- I don’t know how technology works.
- Sorry, I have REAL work to do, suckers.
Personally, I believe companies should have some forum where public shaming can occur in the wake of an incident like this. I mean, I’m not advocating disciplining or firing someone. No. But if peers could trash talk him/her for 24 hours without consequence, where a photo could be uploaded for a Dumbass Caption Contest? Probably pretty effective at putting an end to that behavior.
I will go on record and admit: I have been that person. And I was publicly shamed. And it didn’t happen again. Which might be why I support that method.
You know who else there is? The person who doesn’t know how to mute his line. And who also happens to be related to Darth Vader. Or big on crank calls. Because without fail, there is always one person who breathes into the phone like it’s an oxygen mask, who makes people believe the call will be interrupted at any moment with the words, “Luke. I am your father.”
And if you’ve never heard that guy on your call? Sorry: it’s YOU. Find your mute button.
And yet, I can’t be too hard on him. Because I’ve also had issues with my mute button. I once ran to the bathroom when I thought I was both a) muted and b) on hold. Turns out neither was true. Fortunately, I’m good with improv so I think I successfully played it off as if I were washing dishes. Or owned a horse.
If you’re still not understanding what I’m talking about, watch this as a primer:
So today I was on a series of calls. On one call, to help people understand how excited her team was about something, my friend used a phrase like, “They lept up and squeaked like dolphins.” I appreciated the unique simile – it’s not every day I have to step back and think about what something might’ve looked like. So much better than a meaningless corporate cliché.
“Sonar,” I told her. “Someone is approaching the office.”
On another call – one I was leading – I got all wound up and started pulling vocabulary words like I was playing Scrabble. Only in editing the recording did I realize I’d used the word “penultimate” incorrectly. Turns out, it doesn’t mean “the most amazingly awesome thing ever.” In Other Disappointing News, it means: next to last.
As in, that is the penultimate time I ever use that word.
And now for the part I really wish I were making up…
I was on another call today – a smaller call, with only about ten people in attendance. We were working out all aspects of a large program that is set to launch on Monday, so it was a pretty tense call. We were mapping out timelines, confirming action plans, working out worst-case scenarios.
As we wrapped up the call, a lot hung in the balance. Based on how each person leaving that call performed their piece – and any technical bugs they encountered – we would reach a “go” or “no-go” decision the next day. After recapping commitments, I thanked everyone and went to close the call by saying, “I’ll be waiting for your updates with bated breath.”
Except I got a little tongue-tied.
And instead, I closed the call by telling everyone, “I’ll be waiting for your updates with bated breasts.”
Speaking of mental images…