10 Must-Have Features When Choosing a Teleconferencing Service
By Karyn Greenstreet
copyright © 2009, by Karyn Greenstreet. All rights reserved.
Recently we've had troubles with our existing teleconferencing service, with people having troubles getting a long-distance line to dial into a teleclass. Two years ago we did a huge research project, looking at all the paid and free teleconference services in order to choose the best one for our small, 40-person teleclasses and our large 400-person teleclasses. Once again, I'm back to research mode. If you use teleconference services, or are planning to in the future, it is important to be aware of the recent problems most of my colleagues have been experiencing so you can choose your own teleconference service wisely.
Choosing a teleconference system to use for your teleclasses and teleseminars is an important decision. Each service offers a different array of features. While there can be several dozen features to consider when making your choice, here are the Top 10 features I think are important:
- Online control panel. The online control panel lets you see how many people are on the call, whether they are muted or not, and when new people come on the call. Some control panels allow you to manage the call online, and some include a Contact list so that the name of the participant shows up next to their telephone number.
- Guest Speaker access. Does the system allow you, plus a guest speaker, to be on the line while everyone else is muted? This is especially important if you are going to invite experts to be interviewed in your teleseminar.
- 24/7 reservations. Do you have to call in every reservation, or can you simply go online to schedule your calls? Is one line reserved for you that you can use anytime you want? I prefer a teleconference system where my assistant can reserve the phone line and schedule the dates/times online as they give us instant access to the telephone number and passcode that will be used, which we can then send immediately to our participants.
- Ability to record the call through the teleconference company. The ability to offer recordings of your teleclasses is of major importance. I've typically seen 30% or more of the participants who never attend live; they just listen to the recordings. Being able to record the teleclass means more people have access to your message. (Note: I often use both the teleconference line's recording ability plus my own physical digital recorder as a backup.)
- Ability to keep a history of recordings. Some teleconference systems will allow you to keep multiple recordings from different teleclasses on their system, while others overwrite all existing recordings when you begin to record a new class. If you are teaching a teleclass that is a series (say, once a week for five weeks), you want to be able to keep and download those recordings for the entire series to share with your participants.
- Ability to have at least 50 people on a call (and all 50 can talk at the same time). You might think you will only have 10 people on a call, but as your business grows, you may find that you sometimes will have 50,100 or 200 on a call! For our free teleclasses, we often get 400-500 people register. Choose a system that can grow with you. Also, make sure that everyone who is on the call has the ability to speak and interact. Some systems say that they can have 96 people on a call, but when you read the fine print, you see that only 25 people can talk at a time.
- Ability to mute some or all participants. Participants bring background noises: dogs barking, kitchen dishes rattling, cars zooming by, colleagues speaking loudly in the same room. While the participants might not hear the noise themselves, everyone else on the call can hear it! Being able to mute individuals, or mute everyone on the call, makes it a better experience for everyone. It also helps if participants can mute and un-mute themselves individually.
- Calls can be scheduled for whatever timeframe you want. (Like 12:55 – 2:15). Some systems only schedule in 1-hour increments. Some systems will cut off the call at the assigned ending time, whether you are finished speaking or not. Get a system that allows you flexibility in call start/stop times and durations.
- NO "circuits busy" problem, guaranteed. There has been an explosion of people wanting to use teleconferencing lines over the past few years, and the "circuits busy" message that you sometimes get when dialing into a call is because there are not enough long-distance lines able to handle the influx of people all dialing into one number. The problem is with the capacity of the long distance telephone company (BellSouth, Verizon, etc.), not with the teleconferencing company itself. Apparently this problem is happening with many free teleconference companies, especially if you have more than 20 people dialing in, or it's a particularly busy time of the day. (Evenings 7:00 – 9:00 PM are especially busy.) Most free teleconferencing companies probably don't have the power to ask the telephone company to make more long distance circuits available, so a paid teleconferencing company might be your best solution.
- Free versus Paid. My next research project is going to be into "paid" teleconferencing lines. Some of these services offer special features not found in the free services, like streaming of your teleclass via the web, or the ability for participants to type in a question or comment on a website. Paying for a teleconference service is not the optimum solution for someone who is budget-conscious, but may be the only solution for people who are seriously offering paid teleclasses, or using teleseminars as part of their marketing campaigns. As soon as I complete that research, I'll let you know what I discover so that you can make your own decision about which service is right for you.
As you can see, there's a lot to think about when choosing a teleconference service. With a little knowledge, you can wade into their websites and select the best one for you.