Oh Good – Another Conference Call! – by Sean O’Neil

Got an idea today when I opened my calendar and saw, horror of horrors, a perfectly clean slate. My To Do list was long—

1. complete materials for an upcoming presentation,

2. finalize a proposal,

3. follow up with two people who have already received proposals, and

4. draft a partnership agreement.

But I had nothing actually booked on my calendar, and like so many others, I gauge my value by how scheduled I am.
On Judgment Day, they’ll look to my calendar and asked what I did with all my time. I need to fill a block or two. Better schedule a conference call:

  • I’ll draft a “High Importance” email, and add an attention-grabbing subject header to turn heads—“URGENT, MANDATORY, ALL HANDS CALL TODAY!!!!” That ought to do it.
  • I’ll turn the email into one of those Outlook invitations, so when people click to “Accept,” the call will appear on their calendars too.
  • I’ll have my assistant send the email (I wouldn’t look very busy if others knew I knew how to do anything so administrative).
  • I’ll intentionally invite many more people than necessary, which will add to the sense of urgency I’m trying to create and demonstrate how far my span of influence reaches.
  • I’ll include people across many time zones, which will allow us to fill any beginning-of-the-call awkwardness with surfacey questions about the weather in other parts of the world (an international call, of course—I’m big time, baby), and how early or late it is there or here.
  • As the call initiator, I’ll arrive late, so others will be forced to sit in isolated, hold-music-filled virtual chambers, anticipating my arrival with frantic texts to each other—“is anyone else on?”, “it’s 2 EASTERN time, right?”
  • When I arrive, I’ll sound breathless and apologize profusely that “my 1 o’clock ran over” and apologize again that I have a “hard stop at 3” and thank everyone for making the call on such short notice and add “but I think we all agree that with all the emails flying back and forth, we had no choice but to get the relevant parties on a call ASAP.”
  • I’ll begin with, “We have a lot to get through, so let’s get started.” I’ll state firmly the “purpose for this call,” and list out “today’s jam-packed agenda” and “our desired outcomes.” I’ll pretend I’m throwing these together on the spot, but I’ll have them carefully scripted so I come off as coherent, well-organized, and solid on my feet.
  • I’ll take this call from a conference room so I can put attendees on speakerphone and talk over them and pretend I don’t hear them when they’re trying to talk.
  • Also, I’ll have people from “my side” in my conference room so I can periodically mute our phone and make classic witty jokes at the expense of the rambling dopes from “the other side.” We’ll all laugh like crazy.
  • I’ll exert my authority periodically and strategically: “Who’s going to take ownership of that?” and “Can we hear from someone over in engineering? You guys have to weigh in on this, and you’ve been awfully quiet.”
  • With all we have to get through, and with so many people on the call, and with all my witty muted jokes to colleagues and strategically-timed authority exertions, we accomplish little.
  • Promptly at 2:56, I’ll say, apologetically, “Hey, I’m going to have to run to my 3. As I indicated, it’s a hard stop. Looks like we’re going to need to hop on another call tomorrow to tie up the remaining loose ends.”
  • We’ll agree on a time. I’ll tell them I’ll have my assistant “shoot out another invitation” and add that “we can use the same bridge.”
  • I’ll leave the conference room in a hurry, but pleased. While we will have accomplished little, we have a plan to move closer to accomplishment tomorrow. Best part is that I will have taken no ownership of anything other than setting up tomorrow’s call, and now I can actually get to my To Do list.

I’m very busy, you see. But don’t just take my word for it… take a look at my crowded calendar.


Sean O’Neil is a workplace and team dynamics expert. He is also Principal and CEO of Bare Knuckle People Management (www.bareknucklepeoplemanagement.com), a sales and management training firm with clients that include the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, News Corporation, First Data, ADP, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Oakland Raiders. Sean and John Kulisek co-authored Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have – Winners, Losers, Misfits and All, which was published in May 2011. Sean has contributed to or been featured in, among others, The New York Times, the Wall Street JournalSelling Power MagazineCNBC.comLeadership Excellence MagazineTraining MagazineThe Dallas Morning News, the Sports Business Journal, and Incentive Magazine. Sean appears regularly on radio and television programs, including Fox Business Network and Imus in the Morning, mostly about workplace communications and management issues. Sean is a nationally-recognized speaker on everything concerning people and the way they interact with each other. He can also frequently be seen pacing the sidelines of a youth team he’s coaching.


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