Conference Meetings: Everything You Need to Know About Conference Calls
Conference calling has long been the way teams get together when they can’t meet in-person. You may have been provided with a number in the past, asked to “dial in” and meet other participants on the “conference bridge.”
While traditional conferencing calling like this still exists, conference meetings provide extra functionality that has made in-person meetings (and the associated travel and costs) less frequent.
Let's discuss conference meetings, the different types of meetings, key features, and how to get started.
What is a conference meeting?
When two or more parties need to meet, but can’t do it in-person, they meet in a virtual conference.
Online software or phone line connectivity creates a virtual space or conference bridge for meeting participants to join. A conference bridge is the name given to the reserved space for hosts and guests to join meetings.
Here, the host and the guest(s) can talk as they would in a regular meeting. You can join a conference meeting through your business phone system, mobile phone, or computer.
Conference meetings can be fancy or pretty simple, with features ranging from basic audio to HD video meetings and screen sharing.
What is the purpose of conference meetings?
The purpose of conference meetings is to provide an alternative method for meeting face-to-face. When it isn’t possible or suitable for everyone to meet together in-person, the meeting can still go ahead via conference calling.
Here are a few common scenarios:
- Weather restrictions
- Travel bans
- Implementing remote working
- Reducing costs
- Saving time on travel
- During international travel
- Quick catch-ups that don’t need a full meeting
- Regular one-to-ones
- When meeting rooms are full
As online meetings become more and more advanced, we’ll likely see more diverse use cases, especially when it comes to flexible working and the digitization of the workplace.
What is the difference between a conference and a meeting?
In literal terms, a conference is a gathering of people for a set event. This is in a formal setting with a set agenda of sessions and speakers. A meeting is the gathering of people for any given reason: to catch up with colleagues, interview employees, or sell a product.
In technology, a conference has been associated with calling in to a conference bridge via a landline phone. As modern solutions have become available, meetings have been enabled via the introduction of online software. In a meeting environment, both the host and guest have access to more features other than talking to each other via the phone.
Both conferences and meetings exist today and can exist together. For example, an online meeting will have the option to join via a traditional phone conference.
What are the different types of conference meetings?
In this section, we’ll introduce the most common type of conference meetings. These can be used standalone or combined with each other so that every guest is able to attend the meeting.
For example, dial-in guests can join conferences hosted by someone with access to an online meeting.
Free conference meetings
Free conference meetings usually come with basic functionality to host a conference call. Meeting participants join the meeting and access different features depending on how they join. (For example, if you’re dialing in from your phone, you probably won’t get video conferencing.) A free conference platform should come equipped with audio conferencing at a minimum, and if you’re using a business phone system, you may have the option to mute, hold, and conference other users too.
Try to provide a dial-in conference call option so that people with poor internet can join using their landline or business phone system. Instead of joining through the internet with poor audio quality, offer a user experience where they can join the conference call with a standard phone call.
If you’re joining a meeting online, you usually have a few options: joining via a web browser, a meeting app on your computer, or a mobile app. This way of joining a conference meeting transforms an audio-only call into a web meeting with extra functionality.
Free conference meetings are often included with most cloud phone system packages, team collaboration tools, or as standalone tools with limited functionality.
Some conference meeting software, like RingCentral, include video conferencing along with their conference calling features:
Dial-in conference calls
This is where the meeting host sends out a conference dial-in number for guests to join. Each guest dials the number and enters their meeting code. When more than one party joins, the conference call begins.
This means users without access to online meetings, like contact center staff who don’t have full access to meeting software or when you need to contact sales when they are on the road, can still join meetings.
A common scenario is for contact center staff to have software that enables them to talk to customers. But, because their need for meeting software is uncommon, businesses opt for a dial-in only option rather than investing in full meeting software.
Options to mute, hold, and conference other users are available via a business phone system. Other cloud phone system bolt-ons are available depending on your phone system provider.
Online meeting software transforms conference calls into web-based meetings where attendees can come together by dialing in or joining on the internet.
One of the perks of the internet option is that by encouraging meeting participants to join online, you save on international dial-in charges. If you’re working in a business with offices in different countries, this can save you a lot of money.
The other benefit to joining online is that you’ll have access to cool features like screen sharing, annotations, and file sharing.
The host can typically also record meetings and store them in the cloud for attendees to review later or for guests who couldn’t make it to the meeting.
Video meetings offer even richer functionality, and is the closest thing we have to face-to-face meetings. It makes sense—when everyone turns on video, guests can pick up on cues and behaviors based on hand gestures and reactions.
A RingCentral Video meeting
For important decisions, high-value sales, and sensitive situations, face-to-face communication is more important than ever. By using video meetings, you no longer have to wait for a space in your schedule or factor in travel time.
For long-term remote workers or when you’re hiring new talent, it’s important to offer both online meetings and video meetings as well as standard conference calling. Maybe your team doesn’t want every call to be a conference meeting. Maybe they want to have more video meetings so they can see their teammates more often since they’re working remotely. These diverse meeting options could give you a better chance of hiring and retaining the best talent in your business.
They say seeing is believing. So, why not consider tangible benefits of video meetings, including:
- Happier, more effective employees
- Enhanced global collaboration and market penetration
- Better employee productivity
- Increased bottom line
- Stronger teams and more effective hiring and retention
- Better ROI and bigger savings
Features of conference meetings
Depending on the pricing options and vendor you choose, there’s a pretty wide range of features in more conference meeting tools.
Some common features in free conference meetings platforms include:
- Unlimited 1:1 meetings
- Toll-free numbers
- Dial-in conference calls
- Intuitive mobile and desktop apps with access to advanced meeting features
- HD audio and video conferencing (when you’re connected online)
- File sharing
- Screen sharing
- Private and group in-meeting chat
- Calendar and email integrations
- Call recording
For paid conference meetings, the features get a little fancier:
- Annotations (when you’re screen sharing and looking at a document together)
- Phone support
- Outbound calling to add external participants
- Reporting dashboards
- Team collaboration tools for channel-based working
- Meeting room add-ons like passwords and other security features
You could even use online conference meetings to connect remotely to a physical conference hall. Here, the in-person conference continues as normal, while remote attendees dial in to a conference call or join via an online meeting.
You can set up your conference hall for a great in-person event with speakers on stage and attendees watching right in front of you. By adding conference meeting functionality and HD video to your setup, staff and customers from all over the world connect to the meeting.
So, if you’re hosting an event in the United Kingdom, your Hong Kong office can join too. For larger or distributed teams, conference meetings are a great way to connect your North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific offices while avoiding travel costs.
How do you start a conference call meeting?
There are several ways you can start a conference call meeting.
- From your phone system, you can call the dial-in number, enter your meeting ID, and connect to other attendees in the conference.
- If you’re joining an online meeting, you can connect through your meeting app on your desktop, mobile app, or tablet. For example, when joining a RingCentral meeting, navigate to the next meeting in your calendar and just click it to join. Alternatively, you could hit “Start” to start a conference meeting instantly:
To turn your RingCentral conference meeting into a video meeting, just turn on your video by clicking the video camera icon.
In more advanced team collaboration tools, you can even join a conference call meeting from a team chat you’re working in. For example, here’s how it looks in RingCentral’s desktop app:
For all conference call joining options, it’s best practice to join a conference call a little early. This gives you time to ensure audio and video settings are okay, instead of getting caught out during the call.