How to Have More Engaging Conference Calls -::- Four Lessons from Morning Radio Shows

For the past five days this viral video by Tripp and Tyler, “A Conference Call in Real Life” has been bouncing around my social media circles, and day by day, it’s spreading faster:

Yes, I am one of those people… or more accurately, I am one of those people that does those sorts of things, often with (ironically) the goal of helping other people like that do a better job at doing those sorts of things.

..and yes, it is hard to keep a straight face on conference calls sometimes.  Especially now that they’ve nailed it with that video.

Conference calls are brutal, but they are a fact of business life… and a continuously growing fact at that.  As the workforce spreads itself out across wider distances, “virtual teams” become the norm rather than the exception.

Virtual teams have to contend with relentless, energy-sucking entropy that diffuses the impact of their verbal communication, primarily through the reduction of non-verbal cues. The long, boring conference call with half-listening multi-taskers – the calls where the question “Any questions?” is answered by a field of sleepy crickets – epitomizes that entropy.

If we’re going to succeed in the virtual team environment, it’s crucial that we inject greater vitality, engagement and focus into our conference calls.

Get Your Morning Jolt of Acoustic Variety

When it comes to improving the quality of a conference call, one of the best analogies I’ve found is the morning radio talk show. The morning radio talk show demonstrates (often, to an extreme) the importance of maintaining acoustic variety in an audio-only medium.  Never mind the old radio rule of “no dead air.”  On a raucous morning show there is no stable air… no one sound pattern that lasts longer than 20-30 seconds.

On a typical radio talk show, acoustic variety begins with the voice of the hosts. Individually, a radio talk show host will have a great voice, with strong vocal modulation and emotive power.

But any one voice is still not enough:  Our ears tune out almost any speaker after just a few minutes (or for some, seconds), especially when the listener is multi-tasking, such as eating breakfast and reading emails/social media updates, all while navigating the morning commute. So that’s why radio talk shows typically have a pair of co-hosts,  often male and female, usually with varying demographic/regional accents, in order to raise the level of vocal variety.

In addition to the voices of the hosts, radio shows feature music, media clips, sound effects, guest interviews, and listeners calling in by phone. Put it all together and you’ve got a veritable non-stop varying stream of acoustic madness.  While we don’t need to go that far in our corporate conference calls, there are certainly a few useful lessons we can apply from radio.

Four Easy Listening Lessons from Radio

Here are four things you need to start doing – and continuously improving upon – if you’re a person whose days are spent on the phone with far-flung groups of people who barely know each other:


It ain’t so much about the words you speak… it’s about how you speak the words. Put some effort, energy and practice into the quality of your voice. The key thing is to get a good combination of self-calibration and coaching/feedback from others. Start by recording yourself speaking and then playing it back to yourself. Do this until it no longer feels uncomfortable to hear yourself played back from a recording device, i.e., you’ll want to reach the point where you have an accurate understanding of what your voice sounds like to others, and be satisfied with it.  We tend sound a lot more dynamic to ourselves, in our own head, than we do to others.  Hire a speech coach, too.  A few lessons can go a long way… Lorde knows.


Great communicators are, first and foremost, great listeners.  Make sure that your conference calls have a strong element of dialogue. Plan a series of two-way discussions into your presentation. The earlier you do this in the call the better, as it sets the tone and expectation with the participants that they are just that — participants in the call. Pepper the discussion with questions and call on people in advance to let them know you expect them to contribute to the conversation.  Rule of thumb: No one person speaks for more than 3 minutes straight… and for higher-energy results, reduce the limit to 90 seconds.

iPhone Headphones


What are you wearing?  How are you sitting, or better yet, standing?  Did you know that your appearance, facial expression, posture and gestures translate into the quality of your voice?  Good.   Now put a mirror in front of yourself on your next conference call and be prepared to experience your best call ever.


When leading discussion, make your words explode with sensory language, aka,  the Invisible Visual Aid.  Use words that trigger the imagination and/or memory — sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings.

Brilliant storytelling and gripping analogies will hijack your listener’s brain, painting pictures in their mind and carrying them off to faraway places.

..and say it with feeling, too.

Because if you’re gonna be on, then you gotta be on.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on January 28, 2014, in Business, Coaching, Communication Skills, humor, Information Design, Marketing, Metaphors, music, Social Media, Talent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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