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Surviving Those Conference Calls

You think you’ve trained your clients or coworkers to email you when they need something. You’ve settled in to a nonverbal mode of communication and you like it that way. After all, emails and instant messaging don’t pick up the kids nagging, crying and/or banging toys around. But eventually, maybe frequently depending on your line of work, you’ll have to get on one of those conference calls. Here are a few things to help you survive.

Get the Kids Busy

In my situation, I can schedule most of my calls on the two days that John is in daycare or during his nap. With very small children, this is especially important. Enough said. When my six-year-old is off school, she still has a tendency to walk in and start talking to me, but at least she can be reasoned with.

When I absolutely HAVE to verbally communicate with someone when my kids are home and awake, first of all I make sure that the client or business contact is aware that there are kids around. Don’t try to hide it. I usually tell them something like “My two-year-old is home with me today. We can get on the phone now if you don’t mind him running around in the background, or schedule a time tomorrow when he’s at daycare.” That way you come off as a professional who happens to be working at home rather than a mom who does a little bit of work on the side. Most people are happy to either wait a day or tolerate a bit of extra noise, especially if you already have a working relationship with them. Some of my clients are actually happy to see John’s little face.

Age appropriate and quality videos are a HUGE lifesaver for the work-at-home parent. Get a video ready to hit Play as soon as the phone or Skype rings. Keep the volume low if it’s in the same room with you or invest in some headphones if your kids are old enough.

Also set out some quiet activities in case your call lasts longer than the video… coloring pages, foam blocks, etc. Nothing will blow your professional image faster than a big crash of hard toys followed by crying.

If nothing else, hire a babysitter for a few hours and schedule all of your calls during that time.

Know Your Program

Familiarize yourself with the program you will be using. Particularly the mute button. Whenever possible, I keep my mouse hovering over the mute button. Just remember to unmute it when you want to talk, and remember that muting your SPEAKERS is different than muting your MICROPHONE. Also make sure you know how to screen share and add other users without fumbling around too much.

Get Dressed… at least your top half

When using Skype or a similar software, find out ahead of time if you will be using video. I have several clients and business contacts that like to use Skype, but without video. If you will be on a video call, obviously you’ll need to brush your hair, put on a minimum of makeup (the moms, anyway) and put on a nice shirt. Doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but make sure you’re presenting a professional appearance.

Also make sure the room and/or wall behind you is neat and professional looking. Use your webcam’s software to preview and see how you and your surroundings will look to people on the other end. When on the call, look at the person calling, don’t just watch your own thumbnail.