DEAR HARRIETTE: I work for an international organization, and we regularly have conference calls to discuss projects that we are working on. I'm amazed at how effective these calls can be, even though the timing for them is sometimes a challenge. Because we hail from so many time zones, the calls are always going to be at an off-time for somebody. The problem comes when people join the call late. One of my colleagues is late almost every time. He doesn't seem to understand the importance of being timely. Another guy fails to put his phone on mute, and we have heard everything in the background -- including a toilet flushing. Can you explain the protocol of how to handle virtual conference calls, please? -- Conference Call Etiquette, Saginaw, Michigan
DEAR CONFERENCE CALL ETIQUETTE: Just because you can't see people doesn't mean you should be less professional. That's the first rule. Approach a conference call in the same way you would an in-person meeting. Show up early if you can. Call the given number a few minutes before the appointed time. Often, the system will put you in a virtual holding area. Have all of your notes and materials handy so that you aren't shuffling papers around. Eliminate distractions by turning off such things as TVs or email. Put your phone on mute except for when you are speaking. Pay close attention to the conversation. When you speak, say your name each time before talking to help the others on the phone be sure about who is contributing at the time. Don't hog the conversation. Keep your comments succinct. Speak clearly and directly into the phone to make it easy for others to hear you. Be sure to say goodbye before you hang up.