Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Way Beyond 3-Way Calling

Simple conference calls are easy to set up when you have 3 way calling on your home or office phone service. But what do you do when you have dozens or hundreds of people who want to participate?

For discussions between groups at 2 or 3 locations, you can corral people in conference rooms and let everyone take turns on speakerphones. That works well on particular projects when teams are co-located at each end.

Now, how about connecting a dozen people in a dozen different locations? How about including 500 shareholders in an investor relations meeting? How about just connecting family members scattered around the country at Thanksgiving? For that, you need hosted conference calling.

Simple systems like CogniConference let you set up your conference calls with a web based interface. You invite those you want as participants by giving them a toll free number to call and a PIN number or password. That keeps out interlopers. Each location is called a "leg" whether it has one person on a regular handset or a group gathered around a speakerphone. You can have up to 16 legs on a conference call. Some of them can even be located overseas. You pay a small per minute fee for each leg for the amount of time they are connected.

A more sophisticated system such as Ultra Conference can handle a few or hundreds of participants. You can run the conference yourself or choose to have an operator attend to host the call or even call out to participants. Other features include the ability to record your conference calls to play back later, perhaps on the company web site. The moderator can choose to go into "lecture" mode to eliminate background noise from all the participating callers. This is perfect for sales training sessions where you have one or two people presenting and dozens or hundreds listening. Later in the call, the moderator can return to "conference" mode for a question and answer session.

Ultra Conference offers a couple of different payment plans. With the flat rate plan you pay so much per month to have as many calls as you want. Callers dial a regular phone number and pay for the call themselves. The per minute plan includes a toll free number like the CogniConference service. As host, you pay for the calls.

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