I remember the first conference call I ever
placed: It required an operator to call the people I
needed to speak with and make sure they were available. Then, the
operator called me back to let me know everyone was on the line and
she remained on the line in case of problems.
Today, there are numerous options available. Most companies
providing phone conferences also have expanded to offer online
services; some firms, such as Edison, N.J.-based Vonage, offer
Voice Over Internet Phone (VOIP) connections.
Teleconference providers offer any or all of three modes:
" Dial-in numbers that are leased or have a fixed per-minute
rate per participant;
" A long-distance number with an assigned meeting ID (each
caller pays a charge).
These options can be used on a long-term basis or for a
I use Long-Beach, Calif.-based FreeConferenceCall.com (www.freeconferencecall.com), which is an easy system
to learn. You can sign up in a matter of minutes with your name and
e-mail address, then you have up to 96 simultaneous callers for up
to six hours per call. Simply provide attendees with an assigned
phone number and the meeting ID number. Then each attendee calls
and enters the meeting room. The cost: Each participant is billed
for a long-distance call through their own phone service. Or,
there’s a toll-free service that is billable to the organizer or
meeting host at a rate of six cents per minute. I’ve been dialing
in using my VOIP line, so basically it is a free call.
Another option is Carrollton, Texas-based ConferenceCall.com
(www.conferencecall.com), which does not have a free
service but offers
a wide range of solutions including operator assistance and
coordination as well as call recording services. The cost: 19 cents
per minute, paid by the caller (the planner is charged for each
Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Audio Web Conferencing Inc. (www.audio-web-conferencing.com) is similar to
ConferenceCall.com but offers a 100-minute free trial with any
sign-up. After that, the company charges credit cards on a
per-minute, per-connection basis. The costs can really add up; this
option is best for small, high-level conference calls.
Following are several issues to keep in mind when sizing up
" Some providers promote themselves as “free” services, but you
and your conference attendees will need to pay a long-distance
charge and, possibly, an additional fee that will be billed to your
distance phone bill.
When considering a toll-free number, make sure you know what
the minimum charges are and whether there is a subscription-based
for having the number assigned to you.
" Are charges based on a per-minute, per-conference call basis,
regardless of the number of people on the call, or are rates set
per minute, per connection (meaning you are charged by the minute
for each person connected)?
" What controls exist for monitoring who is on the call? There
is nothing worse than having someone, say, a competitor, customer
or former employee, dial in on the line and get a lucky hit on a
" When it comes to privacy concerns, be aware that the service
provider likely is gathering the phone numbers of all the people
calling in to your conference call. Be careful to read the fine
print to see what the provider is entitled to do with that
information. Look for assurance that phone numbers and any other
data will be kept confidential for your use only, rather than being
entered into a marketing database.