Expert Author Gihan Perera
Despite improvements in technology, problems do occur in conference calls, and you need to be prepared for them.
Poor telephone connection
First, of course, if you're using the telephone system, some participants might have a bad connection. This has been the case since the telephone was invented, and is likely to be true forever!
Some possible solutions:
  • Ask participants to hang up and call again.
  • If possible, ask them to use a land-line phone with a fixed handset; rather than a mobile phone, a Bluetooth headset, a speakerphone, or a cordless phone.
  • If you're the organiser and many participants are having trouble, it might be the conference call service itself. So hang up the entire call and re-start it.
  • Have a back-up technology ready - for instance, having everybody's phone numbers rather than using Skype.
Poor Internet connection
Similar problems can occur if you're using the Internet for the conference call. In this case, you could try some other solutions as well as those we've already mentioned:
  • 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 minimise their use of the Internet - browsing the Web, downloading e-mail, backing up data to an on-line server, and so on - during the conference call.
  • If you are planning to share big files with other participants during the call, send them the files in advance.
  • 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, 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 reads them out to other participants. This is obviously far from ideal, but it could be a reasonable workaround to allow the rest of the conference call to proceed.
Call drop-outs
A related problem is having participants drop out of the call from time to time. Sometimes they can work around this by re-connecting, but it can be frustrating for them and other participants if this happens frequently.
This can happen both for conference calls over a standard telephone line and conference calls over the Internet. The causes are similar to those for bad connections, so try the solutions we've already proposed above.
Above all, keep in mind that sometimes your only solution is to abandon the call altogether, so plan ahead for that possibility. For example:
  • If you're working to a deadline, don't wait until the last minute to hold a conference call to make important decisions. Schedule the call as early as possible so you get another bite of the cherry if the call has to be abandoned.
  • If the call is very important, have a backup plan in case the first option fails. For example, your first option might be a free conference call service, but if that fails, you can quickly tell your participants how to use the alternative paid service. It's more expensive, but might be better than struggling with the first option or re-scheduling the call.
  • Deal with the most important things first, so if you do have to abandon the call later, at least it isn't a complete failure.
  • As the organiser or chair, if you do have to abandon the call, follow up with participants to tell them what's going to happen - for example, re-scheduling the call, downgrading to an e-mail discussion, using a private on-line forum instead, or whatever you decide to do. The call had a purpose, so if that purpose wasn't achieved, don't leave them wondering what to do next.
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