I’m sitting in on a conference call this week with a group of senior leaders of a major utility discussing a possible expansion project. Everyone on the call was depending upon one engineer to explain the viability of the project. After all, he conducted the study, he was the expert and it was his model he was explaining but when he was finished, everyone was more confused than when we started and the another call was scheduled to explain what we had just learned.

This young man fell into as the unfortunate situation that I refer to as the conference call trap.

I spend a lot of time coaching speakers and presenters to use all of the tools in their toolbox when making a presentation. This means making sure your facial expressions, gestures, body movement and eye contact all help to further your message. Often times, these seemingly small details are what help the audience relate to and understand what the speaker is saying.

On a conference call, these tools are useless and you’re left with nothing but your outcome, your words, and your confidence. If these are your only tools, you have to use them well or you will end up in the conference call trap.


The first critical step in avoiding the conference call trap is to know what it is you are hoping to accomplish with the call. Knowing your outcome before you start will help you tailor your message to your audience and get you prepared for the questions you are sure to face.

When presenting in person it’s crucial that you understand what you want your audience to think, feel or do differently as a result of your presentation. This rule is even more important on a conference call. Knowing your outcome will allow you to better choose the words you use to communicate your message.


Everyone speaks words. Words are easy aren’t they? This belief gets smashed however when it hits the technical jargon that dominates the language of most industries.  Part of knowing your outcome is knowing your audience and chances are good that not everyone on the call will know the big and technical words you are using.

I’m a big believer that in every situation life throws at us, there is a Winston Churchill quote appropriate for it and this one is no different.  short words are  best best  

To accomplish your outcome, choose your words with care and avoid the technical phrases that we always seem to use when talking to our peers. If you must use technical jargon, be polite and take a just second to put what you’ve just said in layman terms. No one will be insulted if you do it with tact and everyone will appreciate your effort.


Of all of the tools left to you on a conference call, confidence is the most effective and probably the hardest to use but it all comes from developing the proper mindset.

On our call this week, the engineer was the only person on the line that knew his model. He was the expert. If he had developed the mindset before he began speaking that there was no one else on that call that knew as much about the subject as he did, he would have communicated with a much higher level of confidence.

Instead, his voice seemed to inflect upward at the end of each of his sentences to the point that it seemed like every statement he made was a question.  This gives the appearance that even you don’t believe what you’re saying and your lack of confidence doesn’t inspire any in the rest of us.

To be more confident, take a second and focus on why you have been asked to be on the call in the first place. Chances are the knowledge you possess is needed by the rest of the participants. Act like it. See yourself as an expert and others will begin to as well.

It’s an unfortunate reality that conference calls are an unavoidable part of business today. Being on one puts you at an immediate disadvantage because in most cases you can’t see your audience and they can’t see you. If you’re going to avoid falling into the conference call trap, you need to be prepared and use your tools of your outcome, your words and your confidence with the precision of a craftsman but when you do, you’re sure to shine. 

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