9 Ways to Master the Art of the Conference Call

Everyone knows that meetings are bad. But conference calls, the meeting’s bastard brother, are on a whole other level. Typically, conference calls consist of groups of disembodied voices, all with questionable phone connections, speaking over one another to make a point nobody is listening to. For something meant to be productive, the conference call rarely is.

Yet conference calls happen all the time, especially in marketing. It’s important to master the format—or at least survive it. So here are nine foolproof methods to sound smart on your next conference call.

1. Always say your name before you start speaking

Saying your name before speaking is guaranteed to make your sound more confident, cool, and competent. It implies that you—Sandy, marketing extraordinaire—need to be heard.

“This is Sandy chiming in… I do have one thought to build on Donna’s comment about vendor management…”

Do this every time. Be that guy.

2. Master the ‘unmute-laugh-mute’

Everyone knows that Bruce (your boss) isn’t really that funny, but the “unmute-laugh-mute” can be a quick reminder to everyone that you’re still on the call—and an ego boost to Bruce, who we all know desperately needs one.

You might want to practice this a few times so it doesn’t sound like “unmute-microwave oven ding-mute.”

3. Reference an executive who’s not on the call

This is the key to the brownie-point lockbox, especially if the call is being recorded so your boss or other executives can listen later.

“Sandy here… kind of bummed Carol couldn’t make this exchange, because it really doubles down on her vision for fiscal growth in Q2. I’ll make a note to let her know. She works really hard.”

Even if Carol doesn’t hear your brown-nosing, it will still seem like you have a special relationship with her. Everyone will be wowed by your insider status.

4. Maintain a conversation with a co-worker on Gchat (or Slack, or whatever chat app you use)

While attending conference calls, maintain active Gchat conversations with Barry, your trusted co-worker.

This allows you to focus on your work right up to the point that Bruce surprises you with a question about fiscal growth in Q2. Fire off a quick note to Barry: “Oh my god Barry, I was busy microwaving my Hot Pocket and totally missed what we’re planning for Q2.”

He’ll fill you in on what you missed. Repay karma to Barry by saving his ass next time he’s caught off guard during a call. (Side note: If you’re on a call and everyone goes quiet, they’re probably Gchatting about you.)

5. Create a diversion with an open-ended question

If there’s an awkward silence or you’ve bungled an answer to an important question, don’t be afraid to pull out your secret weapon: the open-ended question. Ask your co-workers to explain something basic but important: “Let’s pull back and talk about our high-level priorities.”

Nod your head and make a lot of affirmative grunts. Even though nobody can see you, your measured nods will make your grunts sound more genuine. The group will feel productive even though you’re just going over stuff you all already know, and the person who explains will appreciate the chance to sound smart.

6. If you haven’t contributed for a while, offer to start a Google Doc

Remember, this isn’t about doing anything important—it’s about sounding important.

By saying you’ll take notes from a call and share them on a Google Doc (where all ideas go to die), you’ll create the appearance of collaboration. And don’t worry, nobody will ever check your work.

7. Create a ‘tactical subcommittee’

Another way to sound “results-driven” is to suggest a “tactical subcommittee” to “keep the conversation going.” You don’t have to be specific about what the subcommittee does, because let’s face it, you probably haven’t been paying attention.

You’ll also appear proactive, and your co-workers’ FOMO will push them to participate. But please don’t actually hold another meeting. Just say you will.

8. Say ‘Let’s take this offline’

Now that you’ve established yourself as a smart and engaged employee on this conference call, it’s time to level-up to become a mindful and supportive leader.

If someone mentions a new initiative, say: “Sandy here. I think we should take this offline. I have a couple of thoughts on implementation.” No need to actually do anything. Again, just say you will.

9. After the call, send an email to ‘wrap things up’

It’s one thing to sound like a superstar. Putting it in writing ensures everyone knows you’re a superstar. Use a lot of jargon and never actually commit to anything:

TO: [call attendees]

FROM: Sandy

SUBJECT: Next steps, re: call


Capturing a few next steps after today’s exciting exchange. Bruce, we’re still cracking up at your elevator story!

Happy to take the lead on capturing notes and finding actionable next steps going into the weekend. Stay tuned for a Google Doc summarizing thoughts around Q2 revenue. Know we’re all busy, but a smaller tactical subcommittee may be in order. Looking fwd to hearing from volunteers. Thx and enjoy the aft!



P.S.: Carol, you were missed! 🙂

Watch and wait for the “Thanks Sandy, you’re awesome!” responses to roll in. Then you’ll know you’ve made it as a conference call master.

Image by Paul Bradbury / Getty
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