Conference calls can be arranged quickly and don’t involve any travel costs. With the advances in video conferencing, conference calls using the telephone might not be so important in the future, but they’re still a big part of working life for many office workers today.

Apart from technical problems, there are lots of other things that can make conference calls a nightmare. Here are some things that could make your experiences with conference calls in English less stressful:

How to know who is speaking
The most common way is to say “This is [John]” each time you speak, although this may not be necessary if everyone knows each other well.

How to stop people speaking at the same time
It’s not always possible to stop this from happening, but directing questions at individuals instead of the group can help. You could ask “What do you think, [John]?” or “[John], can you answer that question?”

How to interrupt someone without sounding impolite
The easiest way to stop someone is perhaps “I’m sorry to interrupt, but…” or “Sorry, can I stop you there for a moment?”
Alternatively, the participants could agree on a rule like ‘if you want to speak next, just say your name’. Everyone will then know who’s waiting to say something next.

How to let someone know when you’ve finished speaking
Finishing with a military-sounding ‘over’ is probably a little ridiculous, so how about asking a question after you’ve made your point like “Does anyone disagree?” or “Any questions?”

A few other things to think about:

Even if your level of English is high, some of the other participants could have a lower level than you. Always try to speak clearly and concentrate on communicating your idea. This will even help native speakers who are listening to you!

Try to be aware of cultural differences. Interrupting someone or being too direct can be disrespectful in other cultures. The cultural differences between East and West are well known, but there are also many between the UK and Germany, for example.

If the call is international, remember that it could be very early or very late for some of the participants and they could be tired.

Remember that if you’re having problems during a conference call, there is a good chance that you’re not the only one! If in doubt, ask for help!

What problems have you had during conference calls? Can you share any tips?