Conference calls and video conferencing

With the events of September 11 and the associated hazards of chemical warfare and travel risk, we have had a vast number of requests to explain the ins and outs of conference calls and the do's and don'ts of video conferencing. Here is how it works:-

Conference call
  • In principle a conference call is routed through a central facility or "bridge". This balances the load and removes unwanted noise. There are a number of incoming legs. These can either be paid for by the individual participants and the host pays for the bridge, or the host can pay for the bridge and the incoming calls as well. Incoming numbers are often protected with a password or PIN to prevent eavesdropping and ensure security.
  • There are a number of different ways of holding a conference:-
    • Telephone Conference
    • Video Conference
    • Web Conference
    • Chat On-line
  • Conference calls are normally:-
    • Operator assisted
    • Made via toll-free numbers
    • Made via private conference numbers

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  • Conference calls are charged as follows:-
    • Per minute/per line
    • Flat rate
    • Flat rate user limited
    • Flat rate after hours
    • Flat rate after hours user limited
    • Conference by Request
    • Conference by Request Toll Free

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  • Planning your conference is essential. Here is a list of things to do prior to the event:-

    • Before your call make a list of people.
    • Before you call write out an agenda this should include follow up/progress on previous conference calls.
    • Before you call make a personal key pointer list based on the agenda so you have a clear set of points to add or discuss within the Agenda.
    • Set topic time limits.
    • Send out reminders to attendees telephonic/e-mail/fax.
    • Send out conference material to the attendees.
    • Set a conference call time and date that is convenient to all parties.
    • If the call is international verify that international service is available and is compatible.
    • Get firm commitments that people will be attending.
    • Arrange a guest speaker/moderator/facilitator/time keeper if required.
    • Arrange transcription services if required.
    • Arrange recording service if required.
    • Arrange call on demand recording if required.
    • Arrange presentation service if required.
    • Test all the equipment prior to the conference call.
    • Keep records/minutes on paper/mixed media and distribute them.
    • Record questions asked and answer them.
    • Tell your secretary, your reception and the switchboard that you don't want interruptions.
    • Above all be prepared - the attendees time is valuable too!
Video conferencing
  • Conference call do's and don'ts. General etiquette and caveats.
    • Don't use cordless,cellular or speaker phones.
    • If you must use a speaker phone use a full digital duplex one for clarity
    • Don't call from your car.
    • Don't call from payphones or hotel lobbies.
    • If you have to call from a payphone choose a big bank of phones or a secluded one.
    • Introduce yourself each time you speak.
    • If you are hosting introduce everyone with a short resume.
    • pay phone use the hold or incoming call waiting facility.
    • Switch off answering machines and music-on-hold.
    • Switch off voice mail services and voice mail alerts.
    • Make sure you are on time or early.
    • Use the operator to contact late entrants so the flow isn't interrupted.
    • pay phone interupt speakers.
    • Address the participants personally by name.
    • pay phone deviate from the agenda.
    • Stick within the scheduled time limits.
    • Occasionally ask a participant for an opinion. This keeps them on their toes.
    • Use the "mute" button if you pay phone have to talk during the conference so as to reduce static and background noise.
    • Use the "mute" button if you have to talk to someone in the office during a conference call.
    • At the end thank all the participants for their contributions.
    • End the conference properly and don't allow a few people to remain talking.
  • Conference calls are a powerful tool if used properly. The major benefits are:-
    • Quick.
    • Cheap.
    • Facilitates crisis management and rapid or fast track problem solving.
    • Eliminate travel, car hire and hotel bills.
    • Informs all the attendees simultaneously.
    • Spread company ethos.
    • Facilitates idea sharing and multiple input for problem solving.
    • Prevent multiple individual calls by sharing information in one call.
    • Attendees have access to all their papers and information.
    • Have scheduled times.
    • Can be held regularly
    • Can be held wherever there is a telephone.

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