Free Conferencing Tools
By Ron Rosenberg
And while there are times when face-to-face meetings are the best and most efficient methods for communication, there are many other instances when a "virtual meeting" can be just as effective.
Here are two free tools that can help you add this capability to your "operational arsenal."
Let's Have a Conference Call!
The basic Conference Call has been around for about 40 years. Initially, it was handled through special software on equipment housed in the phone company's central switching office. It was costly, unreliable, and cumbersome to use.
Now, with the advent of the Internet and "VOIP" (Voice Over Internet Protocol), calls are handled digitally and are combined and shared by software. The best part is that costs have dropped to the point where many different options are available that are completely free. Our favorite, and the one we've been using for several years, is FreeConferenceCalling.com.
Easy to Manage
When you sign up, you're provided with a dial-in number and a unique PIN. You're also given a special "host code" so you can identify yourself as the person managing the call.
Once people have dialed in, you can control various aspects of the call using your phone's touch-tone keypad including muting or locking the call, requiring callers to be announced by name, and even enabling "entry tones" that indicate when new callers have joined the conference.
Can I Record the Calls?
Absolutely! The software allows the entire call to be recorded and accessed later as an MP3 file. You can listen to the recording directly from the FreeConferenceCalling.com web site, send a link to the participants allowing them to do the same thing, or even download the MP3 file to use in other ways.
Of course, there are laws that govern the recording of phone calls, and, while these laws can be complex - and sometimes arcane - you can get a good overview at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_recording_laws.
Manage Your Calls in Real-Time!
There's even a web-based console where you can manage every aspect of the call. You can even see who is dialed in, give callers the ability to "raise their hands" for questions, and mute and unmute individual attendees.
Plus, you can see individual callers by their phone numbers so you know who - and how many - people are on the call at any given time.
Keep Track of Your Contacts...
You can even maintain a database of frequent callers that you can enter manually, or import from several different sources, so when they call in next time, they'll be identified not by phone number, but by name!
FreeConferenceCalling.com has served us well for many years. It's totally free, and you can create your own account at: http://www.freeconferencecalling.com.
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words!
Sometimes, when calling Technical Support for some of the products we use, we’ve had to demonstrate a complex issue. It can be far easier to demonstrate the issue visually instead of explaining it verbally. It's times like this that we use Join.me.
Join.me offers a quick-and easy way for you to share your screen with someone else to demonstrate a problem you’re having, share an idea, or collaborate in real time.
And the best part is that they’ve just incorporated internet-phone capabilities into the free version, and a “unified audio” function in the Pro version that lets people participate by internet-phone, conference call, or both, giving you the ability to run live webinars or meetings for up to 250 people - and they even have local-access numbers for 23 different countries so attendees from those locations won’t have to worry about international dial-in fees.
You can share control of your screen, allow another person on the call to become the presenter, and even record the whole video conference! Get the free version, or a 14-day trial of the "Pro" version here: https://join.me
While we still have face-to-face meetings today, there are many more opportunities to conduct "virtual meetings" with individuals at different locations to collaborate on a project, solve issues, or determine next actions. This is where the conferencing tools we discussed above can be extremely valuable to help you manage and operate your business more effectively. Discover how you can incorporate them into your own business or organization!