Conference Call Companies

Written by Blaire Chandler-Wilcox
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Conference call trends are undergoing major shifts. In additional to traditional reserved-line conference calls, there is also web-conferencing and data-conferencing. Audio conferences can take place over the phone, or over the Internet. As technology continues to shift and evolve, the lines between phone, web, and even video conferencing are blurring.

Regardless of their modality, conference providers/organizers offer a wide variety of services, from automated options to fully staffed operator services. Rates vary, services vary, and the source of your "ideal" conference call methodology may not be a traditional conference call company at all, but rather your internet provider. Understanding what types of service are available is a necessary part of understanding what your needs are, and how they can best be met.

Phone Conferencing Versus Internet Conferencing

There are essentially two sources of conferencing communication methodologies. There's conferencing via the phone, and conferencing via the Internet. Some people even combine the two, and have data conferences with shared computer systems, while simultaneously talking on the phone.

Telephone Conferencing: Options

Within the category of telephone-based conferencing, the market can choose between toll and toll free calling, reserved and reservationless conferences, and automated or operated assisted options. "Reservationless" calling systems are currently the least expensive option. This kind of conference call company assigns you a dedicated toll or toll free number for an extended period of time, like six months or a year. They also assign you a pass-code for you and your conferencing buddies providing access to the line. You can conduct conference calls any time of day. There is no need to call the company and request a line assignment; the line belongs to you and your team for the duration of your contract. Rates for this service range from free (not including local and long distance phone charges), to per minute per user, to a flat monthly charge. This service is completely automated. There is no operator assistance.

Full service conference call companies may offer automated services and reservationless options like the one above. But what they really pride themselves on is customer care and conferencing assistance services. Full service conference call companies, even when you select automated systems, can have an operator on the line with you at a touch of a button. They can also greet callers (very important for image in some executive's minds) and patch them politely into calls. Further, via coded keypad entries, they can help conference leaders tally polls and numbered comments. They can also act as conference moderators, controlling the flow of questions raised by attendees. These services, of course, cost considerably more than simple automated options.

Then there's the question of toll versus toll free calling. For companies who are communicating with fellow employees, whose phone charges are being directly billed to the accounting department of The Firm, toll calls are probably the way to go. They're the cheapest route, and there's no out of pocket expense incurred by the conference attendees.

However, for companies that have regular conference calls with clients, or project meetings with freelancers, toll free calls are a requirement. It looks bad, from a client perspective, to be charged for a conference call. Many freelancers, too, will simply refuse to take part in any call that requires out of pocket expense.

Internet Conferencing

Internet conferencing can include text-messaging and instant message forums; data viewing and sharing; presentation viewing and sharing; live audio transmission, similar in type to telephone audio, except transmitted via internet telephony; and video transmission. Remember Star Trek II, Wrath of Kahn? Pull the image of old Khan himself up on the screen, and transmit to him the data titled the Genesis Project. Yeah, you can do that. Except with the technological capabilities we have, Kahn could not only view the presentation, he could edit it right there from Botany Bay.


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