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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 ...

by / December 13, 2009

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?



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Dan Lohrmann Chief Security Officer & Chief Strategist at Security Mentor Inc.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.

During his distinguished career, he has served global organizations in the public and private sectors in a variety of executive leadership capacities, receiving numerous national awards including: CSO of the Year, Public Official of the Year and Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader.
Lohrmann led Michigan government’s cybersecurity and technology infrastructure teams from May 2002 to August 2014, including enterprisewide Chief Security Officer (CSO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles in Michigan.

He currently serves as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) and Chief Strategist for Security Mentor Inc. He is leading the development and implementation of Security Mentor’s industry-leading cyber training, consulting and workshops for end users, managers and executives in the public and private sectors. He has advised senior leaders at the White House, National Governors Association (NGA), National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), federal, state and local government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and nonprofit institutions.

He has more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a US/UK military facility.

Lohrmann is the author of two books: Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web and BYOD for You: The Guide to Bring Your Own Device to Work. He has been a keynote speaker at global security and technology conferences from South Africa to Dubai and from Washington, D.C., to Moscow.

He holds a master's degree in computer science (CS) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a bachelor's degree in CS from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

Follow Lohrmann on Twitter at: @govcso

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