Too verbose for Twitter. Too lazy to write a book.

Sorry, I was on mute

Mondays are my conference call day. It’s really not a bad schedule, especially compared to my previous life at a large corporation where I was on conference calls over 50% of the week. But, now, 50% of my calls are in one day: Monday. The remainder of the week is spent doing real work.

Web meetings and conference calls enable cost-effective communications for countless modern professionals to work from home (or anywhere), travel less, and increase overall productivity. They are also known to be a haven for the collective no-loads among us to drop anchor and hide.

Don’t get me wrong. For some of us, such as project managers with distributed teams, Webex and GoToMeeting are the main tools of the trade. And, tracking progress on deliverables would be impossible without some forum for gathering updates and restating priorities (although, I could make a healthy argument for the sole use of collaboration sites and similar tools). But, for the rest of us, they are often giant time-sucks.

Within the realm of conference call systems (web or landline) a number of idiosyncrasies have developed, many of which add further weight to the argument that most meetings are a waste.

Among my favorites are the feeble attempts to “multi-task” (we’re either attending the call just so someone won’t be offended or so our boss doesn’t fire us), the almost universal failure to prepare for the meeting in advance (just reading the notes from the last meeting might be a start), and the trite phrase, “Sorry, I was on mute” that follows the dead air after an unsuspecting participant has been ambushed by the sound of their name in the interrogative.

I’ve used it myself. And, it always feels as weak as it sounds. Typical translations would include things like “I was reading my favorite blog, Master of the Obvious” or “I’m actually talking to someone on the other line” or “I couldn’t unmute until the toilet finished filling.” All perfectly understandable reasons for not replying immediately. But, “Sorry, I was on mute” has officially been all used up.

My own approach consists of two important components. First, I only attend a meeting I’ve prepared for (after determining that it’s a meeting in which my presence is truly needed–easier said than done). Second, if I get caught with my guard down–it happens to us all–and am obviously zoned out during the call, I just come clean. Usually, something like, “I’m sorry, I got distracted for a minute” is better appreciated by the others on the call who have bothered to prepare, show up, and be attentive. We all sound stupid trying to save face.

So, maybe you should take a critical look at your list of meetings–especially the ones that aren’t specifically tied to an end-point, such as a project go-live or product launch.

Team status meetings aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as they result in enhanced communications among the team and a clear list of deliverables. But, when they become just another round-table to give a recap of what you’ve been doing for the last week–something which would be more efficiently done by group email or collaboration site–instead of a session that provides clarity, community, and esprit de corps, its time to test the Cancel button.

Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts about web meetings and conference calls….Hey, are you there? Are you on mute?



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