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December 12, 2012

For Productivity, Unified Meetings Beat 1980's-style Conference Calls

By TMCnet Special Guest
Rob Bellmar, Senior Vice President of Conferencing and Collaboration at InterCall,

Mullets. Parachute pants. Cabbage Patch Kids.  All things that were very hip and cutting edge in the 1980s, but seem rather antiquated and past their expiration dates today. 

To that list you should add traditional conference calls. In the ‘80s, when PCs dominated the tops of desks while providing 1/16th the computing power a 10-year-old carries in her pocket today, the gold standard for collaboration between co-workers in different locations was the conference call.

Back then, when computers were often shared between multiple business users and an Internet dial-up speed of 9600 bauds was considered screaming fast, conference calls over the phone made sense. After all, everyone had a phone and telephone service – which is why the term “dial tone reliability” had such a secure sound to it.

Once you agreed to a day and time (usually after a few rounds of phone calls to coordinate everyone’s calendars), the rest was simple. You just had to schedule it in advance, get everyone in a room, and then dial into the call while everyone shouted into the phone in the center of the table.

But this isn’t the ‘80s. Just as you hope the only people wearing parachute pants or mullets  today are doing it in irony, if you’re still punching in endless strings of numbers to join your conference calls, it’s time to improve productivity by leaving the time warp and unifying your meeting. (We’ll leave the dress code and hairstyles up to you.)

 Cloud-based unified meetings offer a number of productivity advantages over their ‘80s predecessors – not the least of which is you don’t have to put a lot of thought into the tools themselves because everything you need is already included.

In fact, the user interface makes it far easier to manage the flow of the unified meeting. Instead of having to memorize a series of number commands to record the conference, mute participants, or request operator assistance, you can simply point and click. Plus, everyone can see who is on the call and identify the active speaker, eliminating roll calls every time someone joins. That alone improves the productivity of everyone involved.

So does the manner of holding a unified meeting. Instead of having to pre-arrange a call and then have all the participants find a phone on which to call in, unified meeting users can start or join a meeting from anywhere, at any time, on any device that has an Internet or mobile connection – PC, laptop, smartphone, etc.   This flexibility provides huge productivity gains, especially for participants who are constantly on the go.

Even the mechanics of joining a unified meeting are simplified. Instead of having to call a phone number and enter a PIN, leaders and participants can simply click on, or tap a link. No need to enter conference codes or leader PINs because it’s all handled automatically. That alone can save roughly 45 seconds. Not to mention improving safety for participants who are joining while driving to their next appointments. Now, 45 seconds may not seem like a lot. But if you multiply that by the number of participants, and the number of meetings being held that way, the time savings add up quickly.

Another big productivity advantage that you gain with unified meetings is the ability to share documents, graphics and desktops to collaborate as needed. There’s no more saying, “Let me e-mail that to you,” or “I think I threw out my copy with the bag from my turkey wrap sandwich.” The entire experience is self-contained – just like an in-person meeting – which means you don’t have to worry about who has which applications on their desktops. You can just do what you need to do to be productive.

In a unified meeting, a leader can pull up the PowerPoint deck, quarterly sales figures, product data from R&D, or whatever else needs to be discussed, and share it electronically with all the participants without bringing the meeting to a grinding halt. No need to worry about formats or versions, either. Also, if another participant has information or data to share with the group, the leader can easily pass control of the conference’s visual element to that person rather than having to schedule another meeting. 

We’ve all been on conference calls where three or four people are trying to talk or ask questions at the same time. What you end up with is a cacophony of sound that is hard to decipher and doesn’t accomplish anything. With a unified meeting, those chat questions and side conversations can occur within the Web interface without distracting heavily from the main purpose of the meeting – and even be captured for future reference.

Holding a unified meeting also makes it easier to mute one, some or all of the participants. This helps if the leader wants to make a “listen up” presentation or simply eliminate extraneous sounds such as road noise, dogs barking or the annoying keyboard clicking from a participant trying to multi-task during the meeting.

Of course, if you want to maximize your productivity, you should tailor the tools or capabilities based on user profiles. For example, if C-suite executives need to hold company-wide town hall meetings, they can have profiles that allow larger numbers of users to join the meetings, while others are restricted to a maximum of 25, 50 or whatever number of participants. Otherwise, you can provide all the capabilities and let the users access the ones that fit their needs best.

Having a blast from the past watching a Whitesnake video or Miami Vice rerun can be a source of nostalgic amusement on a slow day. But using tools from the ‘80s to conduct a meeting in 2012 will severely cramp your organization’s productivity. Instead, make the change to unified meetings. Whether you’re meeting with three people or as many as 125, it will make you much more efficient from beginning to end.  


Rob Bellmar is Senior Vice President of Conferencing and Collaboration at InterCall, a subsidiary of West Corporation and the world’s largest conferencing services provider. He can be reached at rcbellmar@intercall.com.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.




Edited by Brooke Neuman
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