Dear Meeting Guru,

"For teleconference/conference calls:

1. What is the proper protocol for announcing (or not announcing) someone who is late to join a conference call they are expected to attend? (You can hear late-comers "clicking in" to a call)
2. How do you handle a teleconference call where someone joins unannounced or unexpectedly and just listens ("eavesdropping"). For example, a senior level person walks in on a conference call and listens...those in the room are aware of the "guest", but those from outside are unaware."


Blessed Meeter,

Latecomers are the bane of every meeting. The best way to deal with them is to try and prevent the problem before it happens. When you schedule your next teleconference, make sure participants know the date, time and expected duration of the meeting. At this point, explain that there is a set agenda so everyone is expected to arrive on time.

At the beginning of the call, take a quick roll call. This lets everyone know exactly who's in the room. If some of the meeting participants haven't met previously, take some time to let each participant introduce himself and explain why heís attending the meeting.

If someone does arrive late, donít immediately interrupt the call (it only rewards the late comer). Instead, wait for a suitable break in the conversation and say "Sorry for the interruption, but it appears we have a newcomer. Please introduce yourself briefly and then we can return to our discussion."

If someone joins the call without the benefit of an identifying "click," itís still best to introduce the newcomer. Say something simple like, "Sorry for the interruption, but it appears that Jim Smith, VP of sales, has just joined us. Now, where were we?" This allows everyone on the call to know whoís listening, but doesnít interrupt the flow of the meeting with formal introductions and updates.

Remember, if you want to conduct an effective teleconference, you need to structure your meeting a little differently. Make sure each participant identifies themselves before they speak. And ensure that everyone knows exactly whoís participating in the call and what their role in the organization is. If certain individuals are dominating the call, you might want to implement a roll call system for the discussion. If someone has been particularly quiet, interject with "Tom, how do you deal with this situation in the Atlanta office?"

Teleconferencing can take some practice to be effective, but in the long run it will save your organization a tremendous amount of time and money. It sounds like your organization has tolerated bad teleconferencing etiquette in the past. If this is the case, donít be afraid to implement a change. As the wise philosopher Confucius once said, "Don't bother explaining that which has already been done; don't bother criticizing that which is already gone; don't bother blaming that which is already past." In other words, forget about past policies and procedures and start over fresh.

Until next time… may good meeting karma always be with you.



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