Organising a physical conference for colleagues, suppliers or clients who are based in various locations can be hard work. Finding a mutually agereable place and time, managing transport and accommodation and then making best use of their time whilst they visit you is an expensive and time consuming venture.
And yet people and businesses need to chat, share ideas and work on projects in teams. So what’s the solution for those businesses for which a physical conference is impractical? Teleconferencing!
What is a teleconference?
A teleconference is where three or more geographically separated people use an electronic service to communicate. The people might be in the same city or they could be in different countries. The teleconference may be interactive, where all participants can speak freely, or it might be one-way such as a presentation or training program. Regardless of the size of your group, teleconferencing is the most cost effective way to bring them together in collaboration from anywhere in the world.
Teleconferencing may take one of three forms:
- Conference calls: A conference call is a phone call with more than two participants. It requires no special equipment – just a telephone. A speaker phone may be used if there is more than one person at a single site. If the call involves a small number of people the call is conducted like a normal meeting, except that the callers can't see each other. If the call involves a larger number of people, some controls will need to be used so the meeting doesn’t become chaotic. A quality conference provider will provide the host with meeting controls such as:
- Mute-All (where participants will only be able to hear the call, not speak)
- Participant Announcements (where each new participant’s name will be announced as they enter and leave the call)
- Conference Call Lock (where you can lock the conference after a certain time so no new people can enter).
These controls help to ensure that meetings run without interruption, that sensitive information is guarded and that the appropriate people are on the call.
- Video conferences: A video conference is a live video connection between multiple people in separate locations. Video-conferencing allows participants to communicate by both seeing and hearing one another, connecting them as if they were in the same room. Each participant or group of participants must have a computer and video screen, a camera, sound system and microphone. Another requirement is a connection to the communications system being used – the internet, a satellite based system or a specialised communications technology. Participants should be able to hear and see each other in real time and converse in a natural manner.
- Web conferences: These can be similar to videoconferences in that groups of widely separated individuals can have audio and visual contact. However they differ in that the video transmission takes place over high-speed Internet lines and requires some basic equipment and appropriate software. A broadband internet connection is essential as dial-up is too slow to display the conference in ‘real time’.
There are two ways to conduct a web conference. The first is to rely on a computer for the video and data transmission, while the audio comes through speaker phone via a conference call. The other is to use high-speed Internet lines for the audio transmission as well; VoIP technology (digitized telephone messages that are transmitted over the Internet) are used.
In both cases, web conferencing services allow the transmission of sound, pictures and files all at once so that participants can see and hear each other, as well as view documents and presentations. Some systems also allow for remote access to the presenter’s computer screen so users from different locations can amend and collaborate on the same document. These kinds of conferences can be accessed from anywhere as long as the user has a computer with a high speed connection and some simple peripherals such as a webcam and microphone.
There is a multitude of fancy equipment that can upgrade simple web conferences to large scale events: voice-activated cameras that automatically focus on whoever is speaking, document readers, built in projectors and multiple microphones. However, the bottom line is that a web conference should allow you to conduct a meeting and share the same information as you would in a face-to-face conference.
The amount of interaction that takes place during a teleconference depends on the format, the number of people involved and the purpose of the conference. A sales get-together, brainstorm or planning meeting would probably allow everyone to talk and listen in ways similar to an in-person session. However, a teleconference run for professional training or for important company announcements might only allow for one-way transmission of presentations with limited discussion options; often these types of teleconferences will have a question period at the end or the option for online chat.
The options are varied for different sized meetings depending on their purpose and level of security required. If you have a special conferencing requirement, call us to discuss and we will tailor our services to suit.