Product Mangers Need To Do A Better Job Of Being Professional On Conference Calls

by drjim on January 31, 2011

Careful What You Do On A Teleconference, Everyone May Be Watching…

Careful What You Do On A Teleconference, Everyone May Be Watching…

Ah, conference calls / video calls – it’s a love / hate relationship that product managers have with this staple of the 21st Century workplace. Sure they are a great way to pull together a team that is working remotely, even in other countries, but there sure are a lot of drawbacks to trying to manage a product using these tools. If nobody has ever told you how to use conferencing technology correctly, then maybe we should have a talk…

What’s Wrong With Conferencing Technology

Maybe nobody ever took the time to sit down with you and explain to you one of the great secrets of life: conferences that happen using a phone or a video camera are NOT the same as face-to-face meetings. The rules are different.

Sure they are a great tool; however, you actually get less from a conference call than you do if you are meeting face to face. What’s missing are the nonverbal cues that we all use to indicate both when we are in agreement with what is being said as well as when we disagree with the way that the conversation is going.

As though that wasn’t bad enough, studies have shown that people in virtual meetings feel a lower sense of accountability than people in “real” face-to-face meetings do. This might explain why so many of the actions that people accept on a call never actually get taken care of.

Common Courteously Often Doesn’t Come To A Virtual Meeting

One of the things that has never ceased to amaze me is how different we all act when we’re on a conference call – we do things that we’d never do in a real meeting. The least of these is multitasking. You know what I’m talking about: you sign in to the call, announce yourself, hit the mute button, and then start working though that backlog of email that’s been staring at you all day.

Look, there’s nothing that I can tell you that will prevent you from doing this. However, let’s all agree that there are times that it’s appropriate (read that as “you can get away with it”), and there are times that it’s not. Here’s a clue: if you have to keep asking “I missed that, could you repeat the question?” then everyone knows that you’ve been doing something else and you need to stop doing it.

Oh, and one other thing. The mute button is your friend. If you aren’t talking, mute yourself. I own a 80 pound dog that will start barking at random times – my phone is always on mute! The same thing goes for those fancy headsets that everyone’s wearing these days – mute ’em!

How To Stand Out When The Meeting Is Virtual

As product managers, we’re always looking for ways to come across as a knowledgeable professional. We think that we know how to do this in a real meeting: it’s how we dress, hold ourselves, and the type of presentation that we give that will determine how others judge us.

In virtual meetings things are different. When you are giving a presentation in a virtual meeting, you need to change how you give it. The presentation needs to be shorter than it would be in real life because it’s going to be easier for your listeners to tune you out.

When you are a member of the audience, you need to make your presence felt in a positive way. This means that you need to remain actively engaged in the call and you need to be prepared to both ask questions as well as offer opinions.

What All Of This Means For You

Virtual meetings are a part of a product manager’s every day life no matter if they are conference calls or video calls. The rules for these types of meetings are different than those for face-to-face meetings.

What we need to realize is that the loss of non-verbal cues makes it much more difficult to communicate during these types of meetings. The ease with which people can multitask during a virtual meeting means that we need to make our presentations much shorter than we would in a “real” meeting in order to keep their attention.

Virtual meetings aren’t going to go away. Instead what we’ll be seeing is more and more of them as companies catch on to just how much money they can save. However, by realizing that these meetings are different from face-to-face meetings, product managers can make sure that they make “real” progress in virtual meetings…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think is too long for a virtual meeting to run?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just imagine the perfect world for a product manager: you have you choice of high end customers, they really don’t care just how expensive your product is – they feel that they must have it at any price, and your sales are virtually global recession-proof. Sound impossible? Well it’s not for one high-end New York City salon and although you might not be in the business of making women look beautiful, I’m willing to bet that you could learn a thing or two from this place…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Henri Hämäläinen January 31, 2011 at 6:45 am

Good post. I bet all of us have been sometimes multitasking during a conf call.

One more thing to add is that there can be multiple discussions ongoing at the same time about the same subject. Some people can be co-located and can comment and discuss or there can be IM chat’s ongoing about the subject at the same time. Conf calls really are different. I think minutes (about decisions and actions) on a conf call are much more important than in f2f meeting. There you can see if people were really listening and participating.

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Dr. Jim Anderson February 3, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Henri: I fully agree! The #1 clue that folks are not listening is when you ask them a question and the very first thing that they say is “umm, could you repeat that?”!!!

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