A conference call involves telephone communication in which more than one party is allowed to listen to the details or participate in the conversation. Depending on the method chosen for a conference call, interested parties may engage in audio, video, or web capabilities.
Types of conference calls
A conference call may utilize different elements of technology in order to create a bridge between more than one participant. The different types of conference calls include:
- Audio Conferencing: Participants join this type of conference call in order to listen to the audio of a conversation. Depending on the goal of the conference call, participants may or may not have the ability to participate in the conversation or interact with others during the call. This mode of communication is also called an audio teleconference.
- Video Conferencing: Video conferencing allows an individual to place a conference call that allows visual communication to take place. Many business employees rely heavily on this type of interaction because it allows them to cut the costs of traveling to a remote location for a business meeting. High-speed Internet connections, phone lines, and equipment, such as web cameras are used to initiate face-to-face communication via the Internet.
- Web Conferencing: A web conference call allows more possibilities in the way that participants communicate with one another. Business meetings are held across the globe, sales pitches are made to remote locations, project collaborations are possible, employees are allowed to work at home, and even company training may take place. Online conference calls not only provide beneficial services for businesses and large companies, but also assist home users keep in contact with family and friends.
The most trivial kind of conference call is available on demand from many modern telephone systems: three-way calling. To a limited extent, this can be expanded, if each successive third party conferences yet another.
The more general form, however, is called "meet me" in telephone engineering. Participants call a central number that uses various technologies to link multiple calls while having acceptable audio quality. When homes or businesses do not possess the technology to conduct conference calls with their own equipment, a conference call center provides the technology and opportunity to aid individuals with conference call set-up. Usually, a variety of support services are at the disposal of participants.
Some of the more advanced technological possibilities of a conference call has been geared towards the business world, where mass company alerts take place that may report quarterly earnings, hold press conferences regarding new management or policies, or allows company executives to reach sales staff and other employees located in various parts of the world. Mass alerts and non-interactive one-to-many communications may involved different engineering optimizations than a conversational model; see value of networks to contrast the potential values of one-way (i.e., Sarnoff's Law) vs. two-way (i.e., Metcalfe's Law) communications.
Depending on the type of conference call, an individual may utilize:
- Conference Call Phones, USB-Ready Handsets or Intercoms: In order to communicate with participants of a conference call – a phone, handset, or intercom is needed to exchange words during a conversation. An intercom allows multiple participants to listen and communicate with others during a conference call.
- Headphones: Real-time audio communication may take place with the use of headphones to keep business meetings private.
- Audio Speakers: Meetings held in an enclosed place or large groups may use audio speakers to listen in on a conference call, which brings sound to participants.
- Web Camera: During a video conference call, a web camera creates a visual link to participants.
- Microphones: Participants of a conference call will use microphones to verbally communicate with others.
- Computer Screen: Some conference calls enable participants to use PowerPoint presentations to get their ideas across. Video or computer presentations also allow participants to receive computer files or play a part in interactive sessions of a meeting.
- Software: Sometimes a computer must possess or download software in order to participate in conference calls that utilize video capabilities, Internet communication, or multimedia elements.
The methods used to set up a conference call vary between the different services a consumer may select. The type of conference call also makes a difference. There are three common approaches towards setting up a conference call. They include:
- Reservationless Conference Call: This commonly used method requires the least amount of setup. A participant receives a number and access code. A separate access code is given for additional users needed to participate in a particular conference call. Users simply call the number, enter the access code and then wait for other callers to dial in with their own access code.
- Operator-Assisted Conference Call: This type of conference call uses an operator to handle the recording of communication, aid in broadcasting, and offers monitoring services. An operator may lead an entire conference call, including holding Q & A sessions. Reservations are made in advance and are sometimes time-sensitive. This approach is often more expensive.
- Operator-Dialed Conference Call: An increased amount of participation from individual members of a conference call is seen through this method, which uses an operator to dial out each participant for a reserved time. They are then manually added to the conference. Additional features, such as recording, translation, and other services are often available.
One of the main advantages associated with video conference calls is that participants do not need to travel a long distance to conduct a meeting with others. Conference calls reduce the amount of time, energy, and money spent on airfare, lodging, food, and other expenses a business trip may involve. Overall, conference calls held over the Internet have the ability to combine sight and sound for more efficient results.
Conference calls also help to eliminate the runaround that comes from playing "phone tag" or sending emails that need future clarification. Placing a conference call eliminates loss of work and increases overall productivity. Overall, conference calls are easy and accessible; increase data transfer; and overcomes distance barriers.
While loss of personal contact with a client is a drawback to holding a conference call, the expenses may also outweigh traditional means of holding audio communication. Depending on the needs of an individual or business, there are both free or paid call services. Some conference call companies charge per participant, while others base their fees on a per-minute basis.
The cost of the equipment needed to conduct a conference call is sometimes a disadvantage, especially with video conferencing. Depending on the technology and location of calls, the quality of sound may also become compromised. Some companies purchase more expensive equipment to obtain high-quality communication, such as echo cancellation.
Impact of the conference call
The conference call has impacted the general public, as well as many different aspects of business. Individuals can take advantage of broadband Internet connectivity and freeware to add videoconferencing capabilities to chat programs. The face-to-face contact allows people to share information (ie. live video of newborn babies or facilitating conversations with new acquaintances online).
Conference calls impact the education world by allowing students to contact others who come from diverse backgrounds to exchange aspects of learning. Video conference calls permit students to experience virtual tours of zoos and museums. College lectures and online learning take place during video conference calls. Foreign language courses are also made easier.
Video conferencing is prominent within the medical and health community, where doctors use conference calls to discuss possible diagnosis, consult patient histories, and analyze medical images. This form of conference call also helps physicians with emergency cases and assists in saving lives.
Conference call centers
A conference call center is a location where small, medium, or large meeting rooms allow individuals or groups to conduct telephone conferences. Rooms are generally insulated to provide an environment that is free from noise or interruption. Desks, electrical outlets, Internet access, projector screens, and slide show equipment are some of the elements associated with a conference call center. Support staff may or may not offer their services. Most conference call centers can be found in areas where many businesses are located. Additional settings may include business hotels, airports, or sites situated close to corporate suburb campuses.