Whose Turn Is it? And Who’s Talking?

Another great post from @MeetingBoy… can’t wait to see your suggestions.

Even when conference calls aren’t a total waste of time, there’s still two problems that always come up. I have some ideas for how to solve them, but I’d like your suggestions for how to solve them without resorting to violence.

(Trust me, I’ve got that option covered.)

1. Who’s turn is it?

Because people can’t see each other on conference calls, and because many phones will mute people until the other person stops talking, it becomes very difficult to get someone to yield the floor. Shout all you want, they keep talking. Of course that one time you wheel out a string of expletives is the one time your boss actually comes to a point.

Or then there’s that awkward dance where two people try to talk at the same time, realize their mistake and stop, then when the other person stops too, they both start talking again. Sound familiar?

There’s no Roberts Rules of Order for conference calls. Which is crazy because every society has found ways to keep people from interrupting. Hell, even in The Lord of the Flies they had the conch.

In an attempt to stop this sort of thing on calls I’ve run, I’ve texted people to “SHUT THE HELL UP! We got it.” This helps less than I’d hoped– poor cell coverage and the unlikelihood someone will check their phone when they are talking have rendered it moot.

And of course no one has yet to invent a phone that allows the moderator to mute other people. [NOTE TO INVENTORS: If you’re working on this, please also add a second button that allows the moderator to apply electrical shocks to other people on the call. I’d pay a million dollars for a phone that does that– it would be like playing God!]

How can this be solved? join.me has suggested that if you use their product, then the moderator could tell people whose turn it is via chat. I haven’t seen this attempted, but it might work. What else?

2. Who’s talking?

On every conference call where people don’t know each other well, at some point people get confused about who’s talking. Who just requested that– Ted or Barry? Which one is Kristi and which one is Lisa– 3 minutes after they’ve introduced themselves I’ve lost it. And once you’ve lost track of which voice is which, then forget about it– you’re lost. And then there’s nothing you can do, unless you want to always be asking “Who was that? Can you guys identify yourselves each time, because I happen to be an idiot.”

Maybe the guys who made the Shazam app are working on an app that will identify people’s voices on conference calls. Otherwise, on the next call, I’m going to demand that:

1.  Kristi speak in a southern accent

2.  Lisa speak Valley Girl

3.  Debbie speak like a Russian prostitute in a cheesy action movie

4.  Heather do her Snooki impression

5.  Stacey talk just like the sheriff in Fargo

6.  Melody use baby talk

7.  Maggie pretend she’s a late night FM deejay

8.  Lewis use a duck voice

9.  Don use a Barry White voice

10. Steve use falsetto

11. Robert pretend he’s auditioning for another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

12. and of course I get to speak normally

Sure, it might sound extreme, but it will work. Unless, of course, people break character -then we’re back at square one.

Another suggestion I got on my brainstorm was that rather than have to identify yourself each time, people will each be assigned a funny word they must use to start each sentence. For example, Mike will always say “crikey!”, Robert will start each sentence with “back in my day”, Steve will start by laughing at his own joke (no change required), and Don will start everything “well, I may be an ass, but…” Of course Lewis will start each sentence by saying “Can you repeat that?” because he never listens when other people talk already. And we’ll still know Jason because he rambles and rarely makes a point. And Kevin will start everything with “My call dropped. What did I miss?” just like always.

One final thought– maybe this is the one time that the bad connections are actually useful:

1.  Monica is on the choppy cellphone

2.  Ana sounds like Darth Vader because she won’t hold the phone away from her face

3.  Corinna is stuck on VOIP and sounds like she’s in an echo chamber

4.  Aishwarya is on an annoying delay from India

Of course for this to work everyone has to have a different crappy connection.

What other suggestions do you have for solving these problems? And let’s try to answer other than suggesting video conferencing, which obviously lets people use visual cues– as long as those cues aren’t lost to the choppy video relay. How do you solve these problems on regular conference calls?


Written by

Maggie Hibma is a member of the join.me product team.

9 thoughts on “Whose Turn Is it? And Who’s Talking?

  1. On #1.. yes, a moderator is the best way to handle that. I’ve had similar experiences in a crowded session, but 1 person moderating can make all the difference calling out individuals to make their points.

    #2.. Have you considered tones? or little notifications per individual.. may help recognize the voices.

  2. I don’t sit on a lot of conference calls, but we have a lot of meetings with 10 people in one room calling one person someplace else. We handle the “who’s talking?” by starting every sentence with our own name. So even the 20th time I’ve spoken I still say “Abby-wan. June 14th is a feasible completion date.” Then somebody else adds “Hans. As long as prints are released by April 1st, I’m also fine with June 14th.” It’s a little silly since 10/11 people know who’s talking, but if you’re the 11th person you’re forever grateful.

  3. Ummm… I’m hoping that you know that one of your competitors, GotoMeeting, provides a nice “who’s talking” indicator that is quite helpful. Works great on my iPad to see who is speaking.

    Andy Wolber

  4. I would suggest a “raise your hand” icon. This icon also notifies the moderator (unobtrusively-maybe a flashing icon or something). Once a “hand is raised” the moderator can then click to confirm and allow that person to talk. In addition, the system will only allow one person to be active at once. Another person could “raise their hand” and wait for the moderator to give them access to speak. The moderator can take control away and speak themselves at any time and then re-grant speaking control at will.

  5. I like Abby-wans suggestion for pre-comment name announcements. Proven to be Very helpful. And we could take a step further by providing musical interludes and sound effects to punctuate the conversation. Rising volume when someone is going on and on ..or off topic. Think Emmys. A lighting bolt when someone isn’t paying attention. Angels singing when agreement is reached. The possibilities are endless. Thoughts?

  6. Other web conferencing providers provide little speaking bubble icons in their participants list to show who is talking. It’s VERY helpful. The trade-off is to accomplish this, each participant has to have their own PIN so the system knows who is talking.

    Sometimes you want this feature (large calls) and it’s worth the annoyance of making everyone dial a PIN. Other times you don’t want the annoyance. It should be a per-meeting setting.

    • What a great idea. I could see it working something like this:

      As each person joins a session, they are given a name. It could be in the format of “Viewer 1”, the name they enter when they ‘knock’, or a name previously entered and saved as a cookie; but they have a ‘name’. Next to their ‘name’ in the the join.me tool’s Participant List, a number could be displayed after their name. That number could be required to join the call. In this way, join.me ‘knows’ who is who on the call and the Participant List can display an indicator when that person has a significant amount of sound input.

      Obviously, this would also help identify the Darth Vaders in the group.

      Perhaps the functionality of the Presenter List could be expanded. Checkboxes could be displayed next to each name. If checked by the presenter, that caller would be muted. A caller could have access to the ‘mute’ checkbox for their own line. A caller could also have a checkbox to ‘raise their hand’.

      I’d also love to see “Viewer 1” go away. Somehow, when someone logs in, they should be prompted for their name.


      PS. My apologies if I’m bringing up ideas that have been previously provided. I haven’t had time to catch up on all the posts, but I wanted to drop in some notes while I was thinking about it.

  7. Pingback: Conference Call or Meeting? by @MeetingBoy | The Official join.me Blog

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