If you are like me, you have been on hundreds of conference calls in the past. They were a brilliant solution to remote communication requiring only a phone, a number to the bridge line, and a passcode. Conference calls served a need, but now, like the fax machine and the pager, their future looks dim. Why is the conference call dying and when might you still use them?

The Advantages of The Conference Call

Once you have decided you need to communicate with a group at a distance, there are three major advantages of the conference call:

  • They are inexpensive – the bridge line is already paid for and a fixed cost or you can find services that are free.
  • They work when people are on the go. Not only might people be remote, but they can be anywhere – in their car, in the airport or at the beach. If everyone has a phone, a conference call can work.
  • They require no training. All people need is a number and a passcode. 

So Why Are They Dying? 

Those advantages are solid. Why then are conference calls dying? Enter the web cams and meeting platforms. Video calling was first demonstrated in 1927, but the first real video call took place on 1970. Of course, adoption came far later and wasn’t on always on a phone, and certainly not on a dedicated “video phone.” it took a pandemic to completely tip the scales of adoption – and add to the death march of the conference call.

It is video and ever faster and ubiquitous bandwidth that will largely kill the conference call. Conference calls don’t allow people to see each other or a common image in real time. Presentation slides or other visual media can aid in communication efficiency and effectiveness. And of course, seeing other people while not the same as being in a room together can help immensely as well.

If you have made the switch to Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams or an any of the other major web platforms and provided people with webcams, you have counter-balanced most of the advantages of the conference call, and even the training needed for basic use of these tools isn’t huge.

If you have made this shift from conference calls to web platforms you are speeding the death of the conference call.

Dying Doesn’t Mean Dead

Notice the other two examples I gave in the opening paragraph? Faxes and pagers, while not nearly as popular or used as they once were still are and can be used. The same is and will be true for the conference call. When you are using conference calls here are some tips to help them be most valuable.

  • Use mute judiciously. If there is background nose, people should mute. Even if there is little background noise, if you have more than 15 people or so, most everyone should mute. The simple reason are the distractions that inadvertent noises will cause for everyone – hampering communication success.
  • Minimize multitasking. Of all the advantages video brings, the one that is under appreciated is that people are less likely to multitask if they are on camera. If they are muted and can’t be seen, the temptation is great. As multitasking increases, meeting and communication success drops.
  • Wait patiently for participation. In part because of mute, and for other social reasons it will take longer in most cases for people to respond to questions on a conference call. Give people more time, and perhaps direct questions to individual to improve the dialogue during your conference calls.
  • Compare the platform to your communication need. Maybe the conference call will meet your needs. But if visuals will aid in your success, or if the social interaction and richer communication that video provides will help, it is time to change platforms. Feel free to use conference calls if they will meet your needs, but realize you have other tools now. I’m urging you to consciously choose rather than going with your habit.

Conference calls aren’t really dead yet, and likely will never fade away completely. But before you perpetuate their use, make sure they are the best tool (because they are no longer the only tool) at your disposal.

Kevin Eikenberry is Chief Potential Officer, The Kevin Eikenberry Group.

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