Audio control options can make a conference call easier from your desk using a VoIP network and your computer, or even from a traditional phone or BlackBerry at a project site. Depending on your call options, you'll want audio controls that you can run from your desktop or from a handset. You can get either in software or from hosting companies.
- Touch-Tone Controls -- All Conferencing Inc., and other host companies offer handset audio controls based on simple touch-tone combinations. To dial out to a participant using All Conferencing's command, for example, you hit *1. Hitting *6 mutes a line, while *0 allows for a private conversation [source: AllConferencing].
The advantage of these simple commands is that you can host a teleconference from any phone wherever you are and, in many cases, from your laptop computer. Some hosting companies also offer conference hosting with audio controls to accommodate mobile devices. Premiere Global, for example, offers ConferenceAnywhere, the mobile version of its ReadyConference Plus, to bring those functions to cell phones, BlackBerry devices and other smartphones.
- Desktop Controls -- Offered in Acceris Web Meeting and Microsoft Office Live Meeting for InterCall, ConferenceCall.com, Premiere Global and others, desktop controls provide visuals on your computer screen to help you manage the audio portion of your conference and more. You can see participants' names with information like whether they're speaking or their phone lines are muted. You can click a mouse, press a key or two, or touch a portion of the screen to perform functions like muting or disconnecting a participant or recording the session.
Once you've decided on the type of audio controls you need, you can explore specific functions and find the software or hosting company that offers what you need. Here are some of the functions available:
- Dial out to a new participant during the conference. The moderator can call a late attendee or subject expert, talk to them privately and then add them to the conference.
- Set or deactivate entry and exit announcements. A pre-selected chime or other tone will announce the arrival or departure of a participant.
- Mute or unmute a participant's line.
- Mute or unmute all conference lines.
- Raise or lower volume for individual participants.
- Disconnect a participant from the conference.
- Lock or unlock the conference. By locking the conference after all participants are present, you provide greater security.
- Conference continuation, allowing the conference to continue after the moderator hangs up.
- Automated roll call. Participants record their names when they dial in. Then their names are played when they enter and exit the conference.
- Record a conference so those who could not be present can hear it later.
- Listen only on or off, allowing some participants access to hear but not actively participate in the conference.
- Private conversation allows several participants to move into a private "mini-conference" and then rejoin the group.
- Operator contact summons a hosting company operator to assist the moderator.
We've seen that audio controls can help your conference run smoothly, but what if you don't have them available? Let's look next at what you can do.