A conference call enables multiple participants to join the same call simultaneously. While the term is mainly used to describe multiparty telephone calls, advancements in voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) technology have made it possible to host and join conference calls from smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop devices.
Below, we break down the types of conference calls, how the technology works, and the things you should consider before choosing a provider.
What Are the Types of Conference Calls?
Whether you’re part of a startup, sole proprietorship, or corporation, you’re likely on at least a few collaborative calls each day. More companies have recently adopted video conferencing to keep teams connected, but 71% of enterprise businesses still use audio-only conference calls to do business.
As a result, the term conference call has expanded to include three different types of remote collaboration:
- Traditional conference call: Participants dial into an audio-only collective call with a group of three or more. Participants may use a landline or VoIP-powered device to connect to the call.
- Video conference: Participants join a conference call that includes real-time video of the participants.
- Web conference: Participants join a conference call, and a presenter delivers a presentation to the group over the internet. This is primarily a live one-to-many call, but participants can usually interact in some limited capacity that differentiates a web conference from a prerecorded video.
Ultimately, teams need to stay connected, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to have face-to-face meetings with remote teamwork on the rise. Therefore, no matter what type of conference calling you use, making use of the technology has become an essential part of the business world.
How Does a Conference Call Work?
Conference calls work much the same way as a telephone call but with three or more participants. There are two primary ways to initiate a conference call:
- Caller adds participants to the call: A caller initiates a call by dialing a participant. Then, other participants are added to the call as the caller dials additional numbers.
- Participants connect to a conference bridge: Participants dial a number that connects them to a conference bridge, a special server that can answer multiple calls simultaneously and patch the audio through for all callers to listen and participate.
As a result, conference calls are a quick, simple, and accessible way for people around the world to communicate. While texting, emailing, and messaging apps continue to grow in popularity, nothing beats the ease and effectiveness of hopping on a call, provided you are using a quality service.
Conference Call Providers
Basic conference call capability is a feature found in the majority of the best business phone systems. However, providers have been able to differentiate themselves by offering additional services to upgrade your calls. For example, some have higher participant maximums, while others enable add-on features like call recording, polling, video conferencing, and more. Each service varies by price, features, functionality, and scalability.
There are plenty of conference call providers on the market, but here are a few of our favorites:
Nextiva is a VoIP business phone system that provides a suite of communication and collaboration tools for businesses to connect with teammates and clients. It empowers companies with unlimited voice and video calling, unlimited participant caps, business SMS, team messaging, calling recording, file sharing, and much more. Plans start at $21.95 per user, per month for five to 19 users with a 36-month agreement, but volume discounts are available as you add on more users.
You can learn more about Nextiva and other high-quality providers for traditional conference calling service by visiting our article on the best conference call services.
Zoom is popular as a business- and personal-use video conferencing tool, but its platform also provides businesses with high-quality, reliable, and affordable audio conferencing calls. The platform’s easy-to-use interface, combined with its multifunctional capabilities, makes it a go-to conferencing choice for small businesses and enterprises alike. Toll-based dial-in plans start at $14.99 per license, per month, but you’ll need to upgrade to Zoom’s Audio Plan to get access to toll-free call-in options, as well as dial-in and call-out functionality.
Learn more about Zoom and other video conferencing options by visiting our guide on the best video conferencing software.
GoToMeeting is an audio and video conferencing platform that provides businesses with the tools they need to create professional meetings. Features like meeting lock, business messaging, cloud recording, and call transcriptions take every conference call to the next level. Participants can join calls from their internet-enabled device or landline. Plans start at $14.00 per organizer, per month and include 150-participant maximums.
How to Improve Your Conference Calls
Not all conference calls are managed equally. Some can lead to effective team collaboration that expands communication and opens doors to new opportunities. However, many conference calls can waste valuable time and resources.
Here are a few ways to make your conference calls more productive:
- Provide a local dial-in number: If you have international participants on your call, provide a local dial-in so they can avoid paying long-distance conference calling fees.
- Send out instructions: Don’t assume everyone knows how to join and participate in a conference call. Platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting provide detailed how-to-join instructions with call invites, including all dial-ins, access codes, links, PINs, and more.
- Use the right tools: Conference call providers will empower the host with functionality like participant muting, noise-canceling, caller ID, and meeting locks. Use these tools to create high-quality, professional calls.
- Record your meetings: Eliminate the need for aggressive note-taking by recording your conference calls. Most providers will offer this functionality and allow you to record locally or in the cloud.
How do I get a conference call number?
Your VoIP or conference call provider will provide you with a dial-in number for your conference calls. Most providers will give each licensed user a personal meeting number and will also let you create a unique conference call number for each meeting. This allows your business to host multiple conference calls at the same time.
Is there a limit to the length of a conference call?
That’ll depend on your provider. Some providers have limitations, while others provide unlimited conference call durations. The plan you choose will also impact your call length. Providers often encourage you to upgrade your business license to get access to longer conference calls.
Can callers join a conference call before the host?
Most of the time, the host will need to join the conference call before other participants can enter the call. However, some conference call providers offer functionality to allow participants to join before the host.
What’s the benefit of doing an audio-only conference call versus doing a video conference?
Audio-only conference calls are less distracting and intimidating. When joined via VoIP, audio calls require less bandwidth, and even landlines can join the call.
Can international participants join my conference call?
Yes. Your conference call provider will give you a list of dial-in numbers for country-specific participants to join your conference calls.
Conference calls aren’t a new communication tool, but they’ll continue to grow in popularity as workforces become more distributed. Whether your business and employees use VoIP, landlines, or a combination of the two, conference calls are a universally accessible way to connect from anywhere around the world.
If your business currently uses video conferencing software, consider experimenting with audio-only conference calls. It’s a more affordable, less distracting alternative that caters better to larger meeting audiences. Take advantage of this technology by incorporating conference calls into your communication stack.