December 13, 2009    /    by

Learning from Funny Conference Calls

A funny thing happened on my way to work yesterday. Actually, the situation was pretty frustrating, and there were a few lessons learned ...

A funny thing happened on my way to work yesterday. Actually, the situation was pretty frustrating, and there were a few lessons learned regarding interactive conference calls. Here's what happened:

 I was in the car listening in to our normal 7:30 AM "Day Start" call which goes over enterprise-wide status. (To get a sense of what I'm talking about, you can watch this quick video on our technology service management center in Michigan.)   

All was going well as I pulled into my underground parking spot at about 7:40 AM.  On this morning, we were scheduled to have a issue resolution follow-up discussion regarding one customer with a subset of people.

The roll call began: "Dan Lohrmann." 

I said, "Here." There was a long pause. "Dan, are you there?"

I checked my blackberry again. (No, I was not driving at this point.) My phone was not on mute. I said again: "This is Dan, I am here!"

 Continuing down the list, "Lynn... Mike.... John.... Judy..." No one responded.

Until, Sue said, "I am here." She continued, "I know that many people were planning to be on this call, I'm not sure what happened. We probably need to reschedule...."

Then came Jack, "I'm here to." A seven minute conversation ensued with several people discussing the importance of the issue at hand, the fact that this was a time-sensitive topic, the scheduling of the meeting, the reality that it was Friday and some were off, the early hour of the call, the level of commitment applied to this issue, and a host of other related topics. 

Meanwhile, I started talking very loudly into my phone. I felt like a "Who" in Horton Hears a Who. (Yes, I saw the movie with my kids.) 

As I walked across the Lansing Capitol grounds into the building, I was practically shouting. "We are here, we are here, we are here!" I felt frustrated and momentarily helpless.  (I later found out that about ten others on the call felt the same way.)

What was strange about this teleconference was that some people could be heard but others could not. We have had situations where all the phones were muted, but never just a few - unless the end user had their phone muted.

 Yes, we did find out what happened. Here the explanation:

"AT&T stated that the call monitor may have un-muted the calls, but logged off too quick for the calls to un-mute.  The call monitor has control of the call, so people could not un-mute themselves at that point by hitting * 6 or any other command.  He did find an option for the host to use if this happens again.  From the day-start conference call line, the host can hit *7 and choose option 1 to un-mute everyone.

  In the future , the Service Management center staff will have the call monitor stay on the website and make sure everyone is un-muted before logging off the website.  We will also document the capability for the day-start host to use *7 and option 1 to un-mute callers."

In other words, there was a combination of operator error and technology training concerns. We have learned in the past that sometimes a seemingly simple function like unmuting phones can cause serious problems and misunderstandings amongst virtual attendees. 

So what did I learn?

1) Teleconference operator training is important. All of those one-off 800 conference line functions that are available and seem unimportant are probably in there for a reason. You will likely use them some day, so you may want to double check the manual.

2) A few months back, we had a different problem, and in that case we added a step in our roll call process. The host confirms that attendees are heard by saying: "Thank you Dan" after the person says "I'm here."

3) Be careful what you say on a conference line about those who may appear to not have shown up. Perhaps they are listening and trying to get through. 

4) I need to laugh at myself more in work situations sometimes. The events actually became pretty funny - when I took a step back and thought about what was actually happening. 


Yes, we got things fixed and rescheduled the call for Monday. But if they can't hear me next time, I won't start shouting at my blackberry.  Hopefully, I'll just smile. 

 Any funny teleconference stories to share?