Heavy breathing and other conference call faux pas

Ah, the art of the conference call. Seems simple, right? Dial in, listen up, and let the productivity flow.


Gathering callers from across the building to across the globe opens up the possibility for endless mishaps, and it seems there is one in every call. Some are simple, like forgetting to mute your phone while joining a call from a crowded and noisy location. Others aren’t so simple, like forgetting you’re sharing your screen with dozens of other callers when you send a chat message to a colleague that says, “I hate presenting this [expletive].”

It’s a true story. Not mine.

My personal conference call hell comes in the form of sounds. Chewing, for example. No one, and I truly mean no one, wants to listen to the mastication of your lunchtime salad while the rest of us are learning about next month’s product launch. Mute, mute, mute.

See also: typing. If you’re the designated note-taker during the call, please be so kind as to nudge the microphone away from the heavy-handed clickety-clack of your keyboard. We can all hear your typing, and it’s all we can hear.

So, let’s take a moment to reflect upon all the ways conference call behavior can drive us bonkers, shall we?

  1. Show up on time.

475213e064fe8a066ae86226c140e610You wouldn’t just casually stroll into a meeting ten minutes late, right? It’s no different when casually dialing in to a conference call ten minutes after it began. If for no reason other than it means a productive call being interrupted by “hi, who joined?” from the moderator every three minutes.

Along the same lines, double-check to make sure you’ve called into the right line. Missy Kellor, brand journalist for TDS Telecom, learned that lesson once:

“I’ve called a conference number that was being used by a different team. That was a tad awkward to realize you’re, basically, in the wrong meeting,” she remembered. Oops!

  1. Mute. I repeat, mute.

0290113e3969eacf33c6b36c264398f14610baff2f4fcac9ec54f654df66eb67When I asked colleagues to tell me their own conference call pet peeves, many of them could have been solved by the mute button. If you’re dialing into a call solely to listen, mute your line. You’d be surprised what the rest of the callers can hear from your end of the call. Like a flushing toilet.

Or, “I once heard someone snoring on a call,” said DeAnne Boegli, TDS manager of Public Relations (side tip: also stay awake!).

Another colleague mentioned heavy breathing. “It makes for an awkward moment of having to tell someone not to breathe so hard,” she said.

We’ve already discussed eating on a call. But also, if you must call in from a noisy location (say, the airport or a busy coffee shop), mute your line. If you have to participate in the call, then don’t call from a noisy location.

Related: shouting children and barking dogs. While surely they’re wonderful coworkers at home, they don’t make for great conference call participants.

  1. Stay on track.

Truthfully, this could be said about any meeting. But on a conference call, many times a group is gathered in a meeting room while other participants have called in to join. How often have you called in to a meeting only to wait for 10 minutes while those in the conference room chat about the weather or have side conversations or finish whatever meeting snacks happen to be in the room?

To be honest, I’m mostly jealous I can’t get in on the snack action, but also, time is ticking. We’ve all got work to do.

Related: with sometimes 20 (or more) people on the line, don’t be the person who goes off on a tangent with one other participant. The rest of us are here and we’re listening.

I’ll leave you with this video. It barely needs an introduction, and it’s worth all 4 minutes and 4 seconds. Please do not watch (or listen) while on a conference call:

What gets to you on a conference call? Share your story in the comments!

About Krista Ledbetter

Krista Ledbetter comes from a newspaper reporting background. Several years, tweets, and a career shift later, she keeps busy as a brand journalist for TDS Telecom. You're most likely to find her running or on the couch--hers or otherwise. She enjoys both in equal measure.

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2 Responses to Heavy breathing and other conference call faux pas

  1. jilliancole14 October 6, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    So good. I was laughing out loud at my desk. And then I realized I forgot to mute…

    • Krista Ledbetter October 12, 2016 at 3:11 pm #


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