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4 common conference call issues & how to fix them

Love them or hate them, conference calls are a necessity in business today. 

Both teleconferencing and videoconferencing bring together co-workers from different offices, allow you to quickly meet with suppliers and customers from anywhere, and offer a conveniently cost-effective alternative to meeting face-to-face…especially given the cost of Canadian air travel. 

However, even with all the positives, we’ve all experienced the occasional technical glitch that can turn a meeting into a hassle. Here are a few of the most common glitches and how you can overcome them.

Problem 1: Lower than normal sound or picture quality 

We’ve all been on a call where someone sounds like they’re talking through a tin cup or the picture resembles the Trans Canada Highway in the middle of a March blizzard on the prairies. 

There are ways of improving the experience. If your company is spread out over multiple locations you might want to consider getting your own private network. This way, the call takes place over the company’s network unlike using a tool like Skype, where everything is over the Internet. 

“A lot of businesses conduct teleconferencing using their own private network,” says MTS Senior Product Manager Daniel Gray. “Communications providers can apply certain mechanisms such as Quality of Service that guarantee the picture and sound quality and deliver a better experience.”

With a dedicated network, your IT staff can work with your communications provider to set aside certain amounts of data for different applications. 

However, if you are conferencing with external participants, you are still limited by the quality of their Internet connection. And if they are running something in the background that’s using a lot of bandwidth, their picture and sound could suffer. In these cases, be aware of the party on the other end, and if you have an important video or conference call to make, it’s worthwhile testing the connection before the big meeting.

If your company needs don’t merit a private network, but you’re having connection problems with your call connection, here are a few things to try: 

  • Ask participants to hang up and call again.
  • Ask them to use a landline phone with a fixed handset instead of a mobile phone, Bluetooth headset, speakerphone or cordless phone.
  • If you’re the organizer and many participants are having trouble, it might be the conference call service itself. Hang up the entire call and re-start it.
  • Have a backup technology ready. For instance, have everybody’s phone numbers rather than using Skype.

Similar problems can occur if you’re using the Internet for the conference call. In this case, you could try some other solutions:

  • If possible, ensure everybody is using the best Internet connection possible. In general, a wired connection is better than a wireless connection — and of course the faster the connection, the better.
  • Tell participants to minimize their background use of the Internet during the call, such as browsing the Web, downloading e-mail, backing up data to an online server and so on.
  • If those participants having trouble are using video, ask them to switch to audio only, which is faster to transmit over the Internet.
  • As a last resort, if they are still having trouble then consider asking them to send their responses to the chair in writing (in a chat window, using Twitter, by e-mail or by SMS – whatever technology is available), and the chair will read them out to other participants. Although this is far from ideal, it could be a reasonable workaround to allow the rest of the conference call to proceed.

Problem 2: Access codes

We’ve all had instances where we try to join a call and the access code will not work. A variety of issues can occur: the numbers may have been switched around when you dial, or they were added to the meeting details incorrectly in the first place, or you’re having problems starting the call if you’re the chair, or you get into the conference and have realized you’ve joined the wrong call. And when you see the minutes passing by the planned meeting start time, your anxiety levels probably skyrocket. 

Fortunately, there is a solution to help address this problem. Some conferencing products like Cisco WebX will call you and automatically link you into the call, so all you have to do is pick up the phone. In this case, there are no numbers to tap and no codes to remember. Check to see if this is an option with your conference call software.

And if you’re dialing into your conference call with an Android device, you don’t have to remember the access code anymore. Google Calendar can now automatically add it to the meeting details. Tap the call-in number from the calendar event on your phone and you’ll be prompted to select the relevant passcode for you ─ host or participant. No more misdialing.

Problem 3: Screen sharing

Screen sharing is a wonderful feature. But when it doesn’t work, the productivity of your call could drop. 

If you are planning to share big files with other participants during the call, send them the files in advance. Many people would argue that this should always be done so participants are ready for the call. But if there is a screen-sharing problem, then you’ve already prepared for a workaround.

If your screen sharing freezes or drops during the call, check your Internet. Your devices may have come unplugged or perhaps there is a general connection issue. If that isn’t the case, then your Internet bandwidth could be stressed. Close any bandwidth-devouring applications that are running in the background and get participants to do likewise, and that should help.

If the screen is choppy and you are using Skype or another SaaS application, make sure all participants and using the latest version that supports screen sharing. 

Problem 4: Call management

Blip…blip, blip. You’ve heard this on calls often, I’m sure. 

From time to time, participants drop in and out of the call. Sometimes this is intentional, but if not, then participants can usually reconnect with relative ease. However, it can be frustrating for all attendees if this happens frequently and the call is disrupted by all those blips.

The causes of dropped calls are similar to those for bad connections, so try the solutions proposed earlier in this article. Keep in mind that sometimes your only solution is to abandon the call altogether, so plan ahead for that possibility.

To chair calls effectively:

  • Manage the priorities in the call. Deal with the most important things first, so if you do have to abandon the call later then you’ll have completed some key tasks.
  • If you’re working to a deadline, hold a conference call early in your project timelines to make important decisions. Schedule the call as early as possible so you can get another chance to chat with everyone later on.
  • Follow-up via email and outline all the items from the call, action items, key questions and answers, and anything that was missed from the call — whether it went as planned or not.
  • If you do have to abandon the call, also follow-up to let everyone know what will happen next. For example, you may have to reschedule the call, downgrade to an e-mail discussion, in-person meeting or using a private online forum, and you should let people know what is going to happen. Don’t leave participants wondering what to do next.

Conference calls allow for quick, convenient and inexpensive dialogue and collaboration between co-workers and customers or suppliers. Using the tips above can help you make the most of your conferencing experience. 

Next Up: How to choose the right Internet for your business. 

Brian Kozak

Brian Kozak is a Winnipeg writer who has been working online since 1997 when he developed content for Manitoba’s Flood of the Century website. Recently retired from MTS, he keeps his finger on the pulse of current tech trends. He's long said goodbye to the fax machine and overhead projector, but needs more time to think about ditching his trusty fountain pen.

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