The Elusive Convenience of Conference Calling

Posted by 
in Sales
22 October 2009
Conference calls. Can’t live without ‘em. Can’t stand ‘em. Once touted as the solution to all our business travel hazards, productivity improvements and cost-effectiveness initiatives, we’re now all demeaning ourselves daily trying to overcome this over-rated technology that totally disregards natural phenomena like time zones which are not meant to be ignored. Remember how the fax machine first and the internet later were proclaimed as the “paperless office” technologies….?
First there’s the inevitable worse-than-elevator music “while the leader has not yet logged on”. Then the popping of names being identified as they join the conference begins, and seemingly never ends as the late comers – another phenomena that this technology has not taken into account, after all, real people are often really late not a meeting of any medium – finally make their appearance. Of course there’s always that guy who insists on identifying himself as Jimmy Carter or Anwar Sadaat. But that’s still better than those that won’t identify themselves at all, preferring instead the cowardly anonymity that this amazing technology affords them. New flash guys – we know who you are anyway!

Then there’s the facilitator, leader as the savvy service providers likes to kiss up to the poor shmuck that had to coordinate 2 dozen people across 3 continents and 13 time zones. He now has to try this herd of engineers through a grueling hour and try not to sound like a kindergarten teacher. “who’s on the line?” he asks, despite the aforementioned dozens of names announcing themselves earlier. What do you expect though when the leader himself is late? Or when that group at the Singapore lab facility creatively identified themselves as that’s right, “Checkpoint Singapore”.

Now we’re already 8 minutes from the official start time of the call and people are now asking “who has the document we’re about to read?” John claims to have seen it somewhere and courageously volunteers to forward it to the rest of the team members. (PLEASE send the document embedded into the calendar invitation so we can ALL have it IN ADVANCE! Thank you). As this is going on and someone decides to be cute rather than endure the horrifyingly awkward silence that has once again settled in on the “room”, and ask “so how’s the weather in Singapore today”? Which mostly comes to prove that a) he is incapable of intimacy inherent in the all too familiar conference call forum and b) he is clueless in geography since he would have otherwise known that Singapore is a tropical peninsula where the weather is within such a narrow range of standard that the locals don’t even bother with a weather forecast in the papers and news. Still – nice try killing time while the document is circulated.

Now the work begins, conducted by the maestro leader and slowly, grudgingly the slides are flipped through one by one. Silences take on a variety of new meanings on conference calls. There’s the one where the reader of said document asks “does anyone have any questions?” and everyone assumes the other person will ask the question they have so nobody asks anything. Great – mission accomplished and we can turn to the next slide. Silence is actually often favored over so many other unwelcome background noises. After all, one of the main benefits of the conference call is the flexibility it affords us; take it from home, your car, train, airport terminal. Sure, have your dog barking in the background. Your daughter doesn’t like the sauce on the meatballs at dinner now? Silence can even mean you’ve been speaking to yourself for the past 6 minutes since there is no indicator that the call was dropped. Great technology that it is. And how about the continuous announcements for “Paul has now logged off”, only to be re-announced as having just logged back on (presumably having just wiped the rest of the sauce off the meatballs) while Sally is trying to explain the slide and is cut off mid-sentence by Paul’s rejoining the gang. And so it goes.

So it seems to me that first of all, if you’re going to invent such game changing technology, please take another 4 minutes to write the protocol book of “how to use without pissing everyone off while at it” – and no I don’t mean the techno spec, we’ve all realized by now that you’re an exceptional engineer – and take the time to create some etiquette and standards (wait till I blog about my public cell phone in private places entry). Secondly, although we’re making “progress” with technology that enables us to places we’ve never been before, and although much of this technology is causing many basic human behaviors to rapidly deteriorate and manners to be redefined, still nothing gets business accomplished like the good old eyeball to eyeball, coffee and a handshake, in person meeting.

And really, has anyone EVER called the conference call operator for assistance?
Last modified on Wednesday, 18 November 2009 01:36