Conference calls have practically become a way of life in the business world. People schedule and hold conference calls almost every day of the week without even thinking twice about the technology being used or how they are being perceived by their fellow conferees over the other end of the line. Moderators or hosts of conference calls just take it for granted that the technology will work just fine and that everyone is hearing their voice perfectly.
Au contraire! The technology that you are using can be imperfect and have limitations or the moderator and the conferees on the call can be untrained or unaware of how their usage habits are affecting the calls. Both of these issues can cause devastating results leading to information being lost or not communicated properly, and in some cases, terminating the entire call.
Because these nasty issues on conference calls keep occurring, it was decided that a small, concise booklet be prepared that would spell out each problem and propose simple solutions for each one that could easily be followed to eliminate any future “disconnects”. So here they are: The Seven Pitfalls That Can Ruin Your Conference Calls and You May Not Even Realize It.
1. Avoid Free Conference Services
Free conference services were started around the year 2000 as a way to exploit the telephone companies’ way of revenue separation. Revenues from long distance calls were divided up between the parties that carried each call from the originating party to the terminating party. The originating party would be billed for the call and the telephone company that collected that bill had a system to pay the other companies that handled that call. It was called separation of revenues.
Back in the day, if a long distance call costs 10 cents per minute, a portion of the call or two pennies, for example, would be remitted to the company that terminated the call. These payments are called terminating revenue. All of these costs were regulated by state and national rules and each telephone company had to file tariffs.
What some bright telecom entrepreneurs figured out was that they could locate a conference bridge in a remote, rural telephone company and do a business deal with the company that they would deliver conference minutes into this bridge and split the terminating revenue that was being paid to them for these minutes. To generate huge amounts of minutes, they would advertise their conference service for free and just make money on the terminating revenue paid by the teleco.
And that is exactly what happened, the free providers generated so many millions of minutes each month that they had trouble keeping up with enough equipment or conference bridges to handle the traffic. This problem caused contention on the bridges. There were more parties trying to get into conference calls than they had enough ports or lines to accommodate all of them. Consequently, many conferees on conference calls could not get into their conference calls. Granted the conference calls were free, but you were not guaranteed if all of your parties would be on the call. Bummer! So you get what you pay for.
The reason for this long story is that free conference services still exist and as a customer you could still have contention for the conference ports on the bridges, resulting in only a portion of your conferees getting into your conference calls. In the business world, this cannot be tolerated. What do you say to your colleagues, We are going to schedule half a conference call tomorrow. The problem is that you don’t know which half will be allowed into the call. It’s a disaster.
As a sidebar to this issue, the Federal Communications Commission, the national entity that regulates telecommunications and telephone companies passed some new rules a couple of years ago that gradually reduced the amount paid to these terminating parties to the point that in 2017, they will be eliminated almost entirely. This could lead to many free conference services exiting the business entirely.
2. Failing to Mute Conferees in Large Conference Calls
Most moderators of conference calls have learned this rule the hard way, by having it happen to them on a live call. It certainly can be embarrassing and if the moderator doesn’t correct it and tries to soldier through, the call can become a disaster with many conferees fleeing the scene.
Conference bridges are typically programmed with some moderator commands, which allow the moderator of the call some degree of control over the call. One of the commands is the mute function. On many bridges, the mute function is activated when the moderator presses the *5 keys. When these keys are pressed by the moderator, all of the conferees are placed into mute, meaning their microphones are shut off and will not allow interactive participation with the moderator or the other conferees. This allows the moderator complete silence when giving a presentation or long dissertation. The function is sometimes referred to as “listen only”.