Tele/Web Conferencing
Teleconferencing: Collaboration Made Easy
By Bobbi Heyel
Jun 29, 2002 - 9:12:00 AM

The Internet and cellular telephones have helped create a world where seemingly no one is ever out of touch. But, paradoxically, creating a productive collaborative environment today is more challenging than ever. This is because geographically dispersed workforces, brought about by mergers, acquisitions and telecommuting, have made arranging group meetings a difficult and time-consuming task.

The solution to this problem is surprisingly simple: audio conferencing.

True, audio conferencing has been around for years and was once characterized by lackluster features, limited participant capacity, too few troubleshooting tools and uneven audio quality. But sophisticated upgrades and technological changes have brought it into the mainstream of corporate communications. Today, many companies are turning to audio conferencing as a realistic means to provide better collaboration and reduce travel expenses with a minimum of time spent coordinating schedules.

One of the biggest advantages to audio conferencing is its ease of use. This is good news for office administrators-the ones typically saddled with the chore of setting up conferences-whose responsibilities allow few free hours in which to master yet another high-tech "time-saver."

Regardless of one's technical expertise, setting up and managing audio conferences is actually very simple. You have several choices. One option is as easy as picking up the telephone, dialing zero and asking the operator to set up a conference call. However, this is not the easiest solution. It is wiser to enlist the help of a teleconferencing service provider that can supply both the equipment and the operators necessary to meet any challenge.

Because connecting people electronically is a teleconferencing company's only business, their customer service representatives know which questions to ask in determining what equipment and services your conference will require. They need to know how many callers you expect, the anticipated length of the call and whether participants will dial in or need to be called.

Given the basic information, the service representatives can help you determine if any special functions are needed. They may recommend such options as electronic polling; Q&A; customized greetings; digital record and playback; call security; broadcast fax, or Internet presentations.

These premium services offer a virtually limitless variety of applications not previously associated with audio conferencing. For example, to ensure the highest possible attendance before a meeting it is now a simple matter to simultaneously alert all prospective participants via e-mail. This notification can also include the actual meeting agenda. Those unable to attend can either review the proceedings by accessing online archives that include relevant materials and documents and receive a transcript of the meeting or call a special number that offers a replay of the conference in its entirety.

The Internet, by providing such features as electronic polling and real-time slide presentations, has enabled a level of interactivity with video never before possible in audio conferencing only. These innovations can bring a sense of immediacy to events such as product launches, press briefings and training sessions and enable the participation of hundreds of people worldwide. Additionally, previously hesitant users of audio conferencing are now taking advantage of the technology, utilizing the visual review capabilities the Internet is affording them.

Their focus on new applications, attention to detail and emphasis on service sets independent teleconferencing providers apart from the telecommunications giants. Smaller companies offer a flexibility of service and familiarity with the needs of your business that larger providers can't equal.

Teleconferencing service providers can also help you set up conferences to suit the needs of the many users within your company. Recognizing that individual managers have unique preferences, they can create a profile of each user and store it so that you won't have to repeatedly review these details with them. The success of the conference call is often due to the ability of the conference moderator to manage the call and to ensure all participants time to comment or ask questions. Training in audio conference protocol is another valuable service typically offered by these specialists.

Because of the workforce changes discussed earlier, telecommunications budgets are being stretched to the limit. Companies that are now logging a half million to a million audio conferencing minutes per month are looking for ways to reduce costs. In response to this, teleconferencing service providers are training their clients in the use of automated systems that eliminate the need for costly operator assistance. Passcode access and an 800 number make the automated system an easy alternative for those regular weekly meetings.

Audio conferencing is always evolving. As the technology offered by service providers becomes increasingly sophisticated, more options are becoming available. But for teleconferencing providers, what remains constant is their emphasis on service and dedication to making the process as simple as possible. Selecting the right service provider can help make your job easier-and make you look good while doing it.

Footnote: Office administrators often have the responsibility for setting up teleconferencing calls. While they are usually not the ones using the service, ultimately the success or failure of the conference is attributed to them. The end users of the service do not want to be burdened with the specifics of setting up and the process of running the conference. They just want to be assured it will work.

Ms. Heyel is president of Danbury Connecticut-based Connex International, a premier audio conferencing service provider since 1981 whose clients include: Security First National Bank, Coffee Beanery, Boston University School of Medicine and other noteworthy organizations. You can contact her at: 800-426-6639 email: [email protected]

To ensure the success of your next audio conference, your conferencing vendor should provide, at a minimum, these five essential services.

1. 24 hours x 7 X 365 day service
2. Coordinator assistance available during call
3. Presentation options: Voice, Email, Internet
4. Billing options: per conference, weekly by department
5. Recording services (cassette, CD ROM, Transcription, Digital Playback) with rush delivery available


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