How to do a conference call
Operator assisted conference calls
Like using a telephone to make long distance calls, conference calls were once very expensive. Typically any conference calls done were operator assisted, meaning that an operator would dial out to all participants and connect them together. Costs have come down significantly over the years, but one can still expect to pay 15-20 cents per minute/per participant for an operator assisted conference call.
The only thing you have to do for an operator assisted call is tell the company when you want your call to begin and provide numbers for all participants. At the time of the conference call you receive a call from the operator and they will place you into the conference call.
Reservationless conference calls
If you are familiar with doing conference calls you have most likely used a reservationless service. You schedule your call whenever you want, dial a number, enter a pin code, and do your conference call. The service is available 24/7 365 days a year.
The first step in setting up a reservationless conference call is to sign up with a company that offers this service. For a flat monthly or per minute fee the company will provide you a dial in number, access codes, and instructions on how to use the service. This type of service works with any telephone whether it is cellular, land line, or voip. Anyone with the dial in number and access code can use the service whenever they want.
The dial in number accesses a special piece of equipment called a conferencing bridge. The conferencing bridge will answer your call with a prerecorded message "welcome to the ABC conference center, please enter your pin code." You enter your pin code which is usually between 4 to 7 digits using the key pad on your phone which tells the bridge which conference call you should be placed into.
If you are the moderator or leader of the conference call you will have options such as muting participants, recording the conference call, and conducting Q&A sessions. Many companies even offer free conference calls and make their money by offering upgrades in case you want more features such as call recording or integrated screen sharing capabilities.
Conference calling apps for smart phones and tablets
Smart phones are being used by millions daily and the use of smart phones and tablets is expected to see continued growth in the years to come. Apps have been developed for just about anything you can imagine, and conference calling is no exception.
To do a conference call using apps on your smart phone or tablet you simply search the google or apple apps for 'conference calling' and you will find several results. These apps are designed to either call participants in your contacts from your smart phone or you can manually enter phone numbers and the app will dial out to and connect everyone into your conference call. Many conference calling companies also include an app in their offering which simply allows you to send out notices for conference calls to participants and then will automatically dial in and enter your pin code for you.
The apps that dial out to a conferencing bridge are much more reliable as they are supported by a company with the infrastructure to support multiple callers and provide good call quality. Beware of apps that are stand alone (not provided by a conferencing company) as they often rely on your connection and your smart phones processing power to connect all of the callers.
There are special phones that are designed for conferencing. The most popular brand is a Polycom phone. To do a conference call using this phone, it requires that multiple participants are physically present in the same room. The phone is set up in the middle of the table and has a microphone and speaker that is designed to pick up voices from all around the room. In another location the same phone is sitting on a table with multiple people at that location and the two different locations can have the conference.
This method requires purchasing the conferencing phone, dialing the other offices conferencing phone directly, and having your meeting. The phones also normally allow for up to a certain number of participants to tie into the call by dialing in from an outside phone line if not present.
I have explained a little about the different types of conference calling solutions and how to use these different services. Here is a brief summary step by step to hold a successful conference call.
Step 1: Sign up with a service provider - For business use find a reputable company that can offer you the conference calling solution that fits your business needs. For conference calls between 2-3 different offices you may want to consider a conferencing phone if multiple people will be sitting on the call in the same room. For personal use you can experiment using free apps or free conference calling services if you don't mind occasional hiccups and issues with call quality and reliability.
Step 2: Practice using the service - Once you have chosen what you want to use you should take some time to practice doing a call with one or more associates or friends. This way you can get feedback and make sure everything is working as it should. Then when it is time to do your first conference call you already are familiar with how to record, mute, or use the online interface.
Step 3: Enjoy the service - Conference calls can be boring and something that business people like myself dread. If you are the one setting up the call or moderating the call, try to start out with some fun announcements and keep the energy up so that your participants don't space out or fall asleep.