Audio Conferencing is a telephone meeting conducted between multiple separate callers (three callers define a "conference"). The type of telephone used can vary but typically an audio conference includes attendees that use handheld wired telephones (such as those at a person's business office or home), conference room speakerphones that can be shared by several people, or individual cellular or mobile telephones.
Audio conferencing is sometimes called "teleconferencing" or a “telecon” and traditionally this means using a telephone instrument to conduct a business or government meeting.
Types of Audio Conference Services:
- 1. Reservation Based
- 2. Reservationless
- 3. Self-Serve
- 4. Operator Managed
- 5. Moderated
- 6. High Capacity
1. Reservation Based Teleconference Services
These services are scheduled in advance by users that either log into an audio conference account online (or call into an operator for assistance). Reservation based calls are usually calls that have some special attribute such as a repeating schedule, high capacity or an expected long duration. Users can “reserve” audio conferencing services with a special login ID and passcode that they then distribute to a group of callers.
2. Reservationless Teleconference Services
This sounds like something that would never work. How can you host a meeting without a reservation? The designation of “reservationless” is actually misleading. In this case, the reservation is pre-configured and available at any time. In this way, a particular caller can set up an account with a perpetual Conference ID code. So, meeting attendees can call in again and again and they can use the same Conference ID code to get into the meeting. Callers generally cannot communicate until the meeting “host” calls into the session. The meeting host has an additional “HOST CODE” that, once entered, actives the call session so all the participants can hear and speak.
3. Self-Serve Audio Conferences
These services are provided by most audio-conferencing companies and they allow users to set up and manage their own teleconferencing accounts. Users can schedule calls with special services like recording of the call, name announcements for participants as they call in, and other important services such as automatically muting guests. Users that learn the audio-conferencing service, which is often controlled by a web interface, can become effective meeting hosts and they can enact a number of specialty services with varying degrees of ease.
4. Operator Managed Audio Conferences
These conferences are completely managed by a remote telephone operator. Callers are greeted by a person that has the ability to validate their names or meeting information before being put into their respective teleconference meeting. Once there, the Operator manages all aspect of each caller’s connection. Operators often engage with the meeting organizers and leaders as the conference is about to begin to reconfirm how it should be managed just prior the call start.
An example of how a conference can be managed is for an Operator to put all the meeting leaders into their own special side conference (usually called a sub conference) until the meeting begins. As meeting attendee callers call in that are not leaders, they are often put into a waiting room and they hear music until a call begins. In this way, an Operator managed audio call allows hosts and presenters to prepare for the meeting by talking just prior to the meeting’s start in their own sub conference while meeting callers that are attendees hear only music. So, presenters have private meeting time which is often very important in the minutes leading up to a meeting start.
The Operator, at the correct moment, merges the Host/Presenter sub conference with the waiting room conference and turns off music to start the call. In this way, an Operator manages the entire call and all the tools associated with it. Callers hear music while presenters can talk among themselves and the conference begins and ends at the Operator’s command.
Operator Managed Audio Conferences are often called “White Glove” conferences as they are highly managed and presented as a polished event.
5. Moderated Audio Conferences
Generally, the aspect of audio conference calls that require organized management during the call itself are those times when questions and answers are allowed. Moderation includes muting and unmuting callers at prescribed times. A conference Moderator can mute and umute callers in a prescribed order in response to touch tones entered by callers. For example, if a caller has a question they can enter a “ *1 “ on their touch tone keypad. That can alert an operator to the caller’s desire to ask a question. The Q&A Operator (usually called a meeting Moderator) then unmutes each caller in turn. This is a core service offering of a Moderated Audio Conference.
6. High Capacity Audio Conferences
Audio conferences are often held among small work groups of 3 to 15 callers. In some cases, a conference can reach sizes of 100, or even 200 callers when large groups of callers all have a common job title or role (for example, Partners at a Law Office, or Doctors in a medical facility or hospital). Most audio-conferencing services can support up to 200 callers without special arrangement or configuration.
High capacity meetings however are those that go beyond 200 or 300 or even 400 callers. High Capacity Audio Conferences can support 1,000 or 2,000 and even more callers. This always requires special configuration. Often the telephone numbers for large capacity calls are different than for smaller volume calls because different network services are used to provide the connections to the call session. For this reason, it is very important to plan a large capacity teleconference with the service provider well in advance of the meeting date.
Advantages of Audio Conferencing
Audio Conferences allow meeting presenters to host meetings at a distance and with ease. Audio calls are commonly scheduled with short notice for up to 200 callers and they are typically used to convey either important information or regular status updates. Social distancing has created an urgent need to communicate quickly and easily among both small and extremely large groups (Company All Hands Meetings or City Government Town Hall Meetings are examples of the potential need for large audio conferences.). Audio conferences use a basic meeting tool that is commonly available to most people, their telephone.
Telephones are widely accessible and generally provide an easy method for meeting attendees to join a conference session. With some exceptions, users of telephones can easily operate their devices and connect to locations both within and outside of their office or home. This makes teleconferences, as they are sometimes called, quick, easy and generally widely accessible to participants.
Global Pandemic, social distancing demands have caused a resurgence in the need for Audio Conferencing / Teleconferencing services. Many services are inexpensive to use and there are high quality service providers that can help with more strategic meetings that require special handling. TKO is one of these providers of special meeting services associated with hosted audio conference calls.
Disadvantages of Audio Conferencing
Telephones can vary significantly in their ability to produce clear and intelligible audio. Audio calls, especially when meeting hosts use cell phones can be disrupted by bad audio quality, audio gaps and disconnections. All of these conditions are disruptive to a meeting. Good operators and service providers work in advance of teleconferences to assure that presenters all use good instruments that provide high quality audio for the call.
In particular, the quality of audio produced by a cellular telephone can be quite different than the quality of audio produced from a landline or conference room speakerphone. The varying degree of audio quality introduced into an audio conference by callers can negatively affect the overall meeting. In some cases, the noise induced by the lowest quality audio conference participants can be so great as to become disruptive to all call participants.
An additional factor that is a disadvantage of audio teleconferences is that they do not, in themselves, include video. Remote meeting attendees often expect to be able to see images and collaborate on documents. Audio Conferences can be coupled with webcasts and online presentations so this can be mitigated. In fact, most services such as Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft Teams and even Zoom allow telephone callers to join a video meeting using their phones. This is a common “fallback” solution for video meeting attendees that cannot hear in a video meeting. By using a telephone to call into a video meeting, attendees that are having trouble with audio on their computers or tablets can still participate through a more basic device (their telephone).
About TKO’s Services
Our team of communications engineers and technicians can work with you to assure your next audio conference is planned and managed well. We provide engineering management for audio calls and we specialize in services that support both high volume audio teleconference calls and calls with special attributes such as questions and answer sessions, presentations from multiple calling parties and pre-recorded meeting content. The services TKO provides are often called “White Glove” indicating a pristine set of high value support. Contact us for your audio conferencing and important meeting support. We are experienced professionals in audio, video and webcast meeting support.
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