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Fix Your Annoying Conference Calls

Tired of conference call shortcomings? These leading communication tools should make you more effective when working with remote colleagues.

Bill Winterberg, 03/13/2014

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
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.

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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