Tired of conference call shortcomings? These leading communication tools should make you more effective when working with remote colleagues.
Conference calls get a bad reputation. Nearly everyone can relate to the annoying attributes of a routine conference call: the blaring announcement when a new attendee joins a call, the distraction of background noise when callers forget to mute their phones, or the threat of mystery attendees eavesdropping on the entire conversation without revealing their presence. The list goes on and on.
All of these drawbacks are comically portrayed in a recent viral video on YouTube, A Conference Call in Real Life. And Elliot S. Weissbluth, founder and CEO of HighTower, recently penned an article titled, "Ding! 'Annoying Has Joined the Meeting,'" proclaiming, "conference calls are not an effective means of communication."
Like the viral video, I assume Weissbluth's article is referring to decades-old conference calling technology, where attendees are instructed to dial in to a common conference bridge to speak with one another. If that's the case, then yes, most conference calls are not terribly effective.
But now it's 2014, and there are completely new ways to interact and engage with one another when it's not practical to be physically together in the same space. Here are several leading tools that are poised to displace the antiquated conference calling platforms of the past.
Video calling technology has been around for decades, and as cable and DSL modems have become commonplace, Internet users now have the bandwidth to support real time audio and video streaming from their households and businesses.
The leading video calling service is Skype, now owned by Microsoft, which led the adoption of video calling services in early 2000. Recently, competing apps such as Apple's FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts, and GoToMeeting with HDFaces all offer a similar user experience to connect with others to conduct a video chat.
These services are great for one-on-one conversations, but many fall short of the requirements to conduct an effective business meeting. For example, FaceTime does not support screen or document sharing, and attendees who do not have Google+ or Skype accounts cannot dial in to join a group video meeting in progress.
Despite the ubiquity of video apps, video calling really hasn't increased all that much in popularity, at least in most financial-services environments. Even though I'm connected most of the day with access to FaceTime, as it is available on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone at all times, I rarely use the app to engage in conversation with colleagues and friends. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
But on a tangent, I do use a combination of iMessage, Google+ Hangouts chat, and Salesforce Chatter extensively throughout my workday, both in my office and while traveling, so perhaps that decreases my need to periodically conduct video group calls.
Modern Conference Technology
Two new providers tackling the old conference call model head on are Uber Conference and Speek. Uber Conference should be familiar to most readers, as I've mentioned it previously on MorningstarAdvisor when addressing ways to collaborate more effectively with colleagues.
Several of Weissbluth's complaints about conference calls are addressed through clever features in Uber Conference. First, anyone invited to an Uber Conference is generally not required to enter a PIN to join the meeting. Attendees are instead authenticated by their call-in number. Plus, when attendees join, Uber Conference does not interrupt the meeting with an obnoxious, "Bill Winterberg has joined the meeting" announcement. Instead, a unobtrusive three-note chord is played to indicate a new connection.
Uber Conference doesn't need to announce each new participant, as a conference dashboard is available that any attendee can view on the Web or through an Android app. (An iOS app for Uber Conference is coming soon.)
The dashboard shows who has joined the call, and when a person is speaking, Uber Conference highlights that person with a speaker icon over his or her photo. No more guessing who is doing the talking, as a quick glance at the dashboard will solve the mystery.
The Uber Conference dashboard also reveals whether someone is eavesdropping on the call, as that person's profile is shown along with the call's active participants. Using the dashboard, meeting hosts can chat with call participants with private messages, mute callers who might be in noisy environments, and even expel attendees when needed.
Photos as well as participant contact information is aggregated into the Uber Conference dashboard by linking attendees with their profiles on social networking websites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Also, Uber Conference supports document sharing using services from Google Drive, Box, Evernote, and Dropbox. Using Google Drive allows meeting participants to leverage realtime collaboration, also known as coauthoring, where multiple people can simultaneously edit, update, and make changes to the same document. Try that with an outdated conference call system!
Speek is another modern conference calling service with many of the same features found in Uber Conference. Anyone connected to the Speek Web dashboard can see who is actively talking, share files from Google Drive, Box, Evernote and Dropbox, and privately message other callers.
Both Uber Conference and Speek offer free subscriptions with a variety of included features, and subscribers can upgrade to premium plans to gain access to functionality such as call recording, branded dashboards with custom logos and color schemes, and dedicated customer support.
Why Not Make All Calls With Video?
These updated conference calling solutions are appealing, but consider how many frustrations might go away by eliminating the option to call in from a phone altogether. It might be a radical idea now, but it may not be too long before all meetings and conference calls are done using some sort of cloud-based video call solution or mobile app.
So why do most advisors not use group video calling for their conference needs? Today, it is possible to use services such as WebEx, GoToMeeting, Google+ Hangouts, Skype group video, and more to engage with others in a virtual setting.
These services are easy to use, inexpensive, and support a host of collaboration features. If advisors complain about not being able to see others' body language, or lament the lack of face-to-face communication, video calling certainly offers a solution with few disadvantages.
So consider how engagements might be different when embracing video calling with colleagues, clients, or prospects spread across the world. Blaming phone conference technology that is over 50 years old is a poor excuse for an annoying or frustrating call experience. It's time to adopt modern communication and collaboration techniques to maximize the conference experience when it's impractical or impossible to meet in the same physical space.