People Don't Pay Attention During Conference Calls

from the well,-duh... dept

It shouldn’t be news at all that plenty of people don’t pay attention to the conference at hand when they dial in to a conference call. We’ve all done it. If the call isn’t that important to you, but you need to be there, you do other stuff at your desk, or you go for a walk or something. Apparently, conferencing software makers think this is a huge problem. Earlier this year, we noted that Webex was offering a feature that would let presenters know if you weren’t paying attention. As soon as you click on a different application, like a strict school teacher, the conference leader can scold you for not staying focused on the task at hand. Now, Webex competitor Raindance has released a study talking about how awful it is that people don’t pay attention during conference calls, and often go off to do other things, while continuing to listen in the background. The article makes it sound like this is a big problem that companies need to be aware of, but it actually doesn’t sound too bad. If the person’s time isn’t being used efficiently, why should they have to sit there and not do anything else? Once again, this is a study done by a company trying to sell things to managers who judge employee time based on specific activities, rather than an overall view of “do they do the work they need to do?”

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Comments on “People Don't Pay Attention During Conference Calls”

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acousticiris says:

Quality is lost because of Quantity and poor prese

Two years ago, I used to spend about 10-20 hours per week in conference calls. Because of my location, I haven’t had an actual physical face-to-face meeting in about 4 years. Conference calls are a way of life.
I don’t fault the “medium” of conference calls. I think it just exploits and in some cases causes a bigger problem.
Conference calls are convenient. They are relatively unobtrusive (you can sit at your desk and pretend to listen in and they don’t require you to incure the costs of physical travel). As a result, they are scheduled more frequently and in many cases unnecessarily. Instead of just picking up the phone and having a personal conversation with a few folks *separately*, you get them all together and “broadcast” the information.
The problem is that most presenters have no clue how to actually hold a meeting (and I’m not going to pretend I’m much better at it).
Often “important” meetings are layed out as such. An e-mail is sent with the agenda, and some information. Prior to the meeting, a power-point it sent. If it’s a webex meeting, the powerpoint is delivered on-screen while the meeting is taking place. Often, the presenter feels it necessary to simply READ DIRECTLY FROM THE POWER POINT.
I really don’t have time to participate in a Reading Rainbow conference call where the presenter feels that it is important to play the text-to-speech game. And I really find it somewhat insulting that someone would waste my time in that way. I also find it somewhat disturbing that the individual hosting the meeting has so little to do in his work-life that productivity involves reading large sentence fragments to an unlistening audience.
A *good* conference call includes a concrete agenda that outlines the “decisions” to be made or work to be performed, includes some “pre-meeting information” that needs to be reviewed prior to the meeting and gets right down to business. Those folks who are unprepared can sit and watch their jobs pass them by. Those of us who review the notes of the meeting can come prepared to actually “act” upon the information presented. It’s the difference between a “broadcast meeting” and a “working meeting”. In a “working meeting”, everyone is paying attention because something is actually being acomplished, rather than someone talking about something that was already acomplished or talking about something that is going to *be* acomplished that they already planned out and need no input on (and therefore require no meeting to hash out their plans but would rather just tell you about what is going to be done)
So it’s simple. We have hundreds of options available to us for communication. People just need to know when to use what. Just because dial-in meetings are convenient to schedule doesn’t mean they are the best way to get information out. Quite often sending an e-mail to the 6-10 would-be participants is far more effective than dragging them into a mind-numbing conference call where they otherwise would be doing “real work”. And if we’re talking 2-3 people, sometimes it’s just smarter to call them up individually and organize the information from the two to three calls.
My company suffered a difficult bankruptcy and is still struggling during its recovery. We’ve lost so many people that I’ve stopped playing the “waste-of-time-conference-call” game. I attend “working conference calls” (and host one myself). But out of necessity, those of us who are left have discovered that every minute counts. The calls that tended to result in endless arguments and no resoltion, or the calls that were simply information dissemenation have become calls where only one individual shows up…the presenter.
On the otherhand…the calls where actual work is performed are suffering no shortage of participation.

acousticiris says:

One more point... because I haven't said enough!

Your last sentence struck home.
Micromanagement is a big problem. As I mentioned in the last post, our company is working with a much smaller staff than we used to. We have many “maintenance” style tasks that need to be performed, but because the folks that would normally perform these tasks are “buried in work”, they cannot get them done.
We have a helpdesk that is manned 24/7. They are judged almost *entirely* on the volume of calls they take in and the frequency with which they resolve these calls.
A suggestion was made to have them involved in some of these maintenance tasks, but the problem is that when a helpdesk person is working on a maintenance task, they are not available to take calls and therefore if a call comes in (at 2:00AM on a saturday night) they may not receive credit for having taken the call.
My point is that work is really though to quantify through the use of robotic-style metrics. That helpdesk person working on a maintenance task like updating our Asset Management system may cause countless hours of time to be saved from a higher paid desktop technician who has to hunt down a computer that has a virus and get it patched/corrected. But no system can adequately quantify that cost-savings.
So we’re paying so much attention to how much time someone is spending *not* paying attention to a boring, useless meeting and we’re blaming that person for wanting to complete some actual useful work. Of course, some in management might assume that those employees are just playing solitaire, but seeing what I’ve seen, I have to doubt that.

eeyore says:

forget conference calls...

Forget conference calls, how many of us routinely sit through meetings that we have no reasonable need to be at and just tune the proceedings out to either think about the work we should be doing or just think about something else. And yes, watching somebody read powerpoint slides aloud for hours on end is the most mind-numbing of pastimes, particularly when you really don’t need to know the info anyway.

muse (user link) says:

Keep meetings short and focused.

The Japanese have meetings to announch what has been decided.
Beforehand they have small meetings to decide the best solution. This works well.
Conferences (in person or phonemeets) usually:
Report on accomlishments and problems.
Assign tasks to people.
I worked with a super manager who ran great
phone meets and wrote excellent minutes to track and solve problems, 1 hour weekly, for a large multinational.

The product you describe has no application.

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