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Audio Conference Calls and Why Most Businesses Still Prefer Them to Video

Think about your favorite pair of jeans or a favorite sweatshirt. The essential designs of those clothing items has not changed in many decades; the jeans and sweatshirts your dad wore in school are essentially the same as the ones you wear today. Improvements have been attempted from time to time but for general comfort and everyday wear, the originals have never really been surpassed, as evidenced by the number of people who still buy them and wear them. Moral of this seemingly unrelated introduction: What worked then works just as good now.

And so it is with regard to audio teleconferencing for a company’s routine conference needs.

The Case for Audio Conference Calls

Today, individuals and companies have access to a variety and quality of communications technology that was, a relatively short time ago, the thing of science fiction and Dick Tracy. But does that automatically make these latest and greatest gadgets and mediums the go-to tools in all instances?

The answer to that question would perhaps be another question: “Do I want to be remembered as the guy who used a guided missile to swat a fly?”

Despite the predominance of email, mobile devices, Skype and the rest, the stationary telephone, whether landline or VoIP, is still a standard feature on the desks of working America. It has proven its value to business for decades and is still the method of choice for many of the tasks of business, including general conference calling.

It would be foolish to suggest that videoconferencing is always an extravagance. In emergency situations or instances where there the stakes are very high or where there are considerably elements of uncertainty, videoconferencing may be necessary or even vital. Examples of this might include urgent meetings with one’s biggest clients; discussions with especially hot prospects; or when bringing on and introducing a new team member.

But for routine conference calling? Decidedly not.

Just Because they See You Doesn’t Mean They “Hear You”

The argument has been made that teleconferencing is the best solution across the board because it allows conference participants to note a speaker’s “non-verbal cues”—nuances such as facial expressions or hand gestures. These cues have been characterized by some as indispensable for the prevention of misinterpretations by conference call attendees. And it seems like a valid argument but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Think about it: If visual cues were key to correct interpretation (and the smooth business relations, high productivity and closed sales that could be expected to follow from), then how were IBM, Coca-Cola and hundreds if not thousands of other brands ever able to grow to such prominence before the advent of of teleconferencing? It may have been a lot of travel and in-person activity but just as likely is was the telephone.  

A great example of how much action one can generate over the telephone is telemarketing. While it’s probably safe to say that few people enjoy the inconvenient interruptions of telemarketers, the fact is that these over-the-phone sales and marketing nuisan—er, people—have persuaded countless individuals to take surveys, take action, take out their credit card and buy—without the use of visual cues.

Conventional wisdom holds that any tool is only as effective as the person using it. This holds true for audio or video teleconferencing: The effectiveness of any meeting or teleconference is dependent upon the organizing, speaking and administration skills of the person running it. And no amount of high-definition streaming video is going to shore up deficiencies in those areas. Strip it back a bit further: If you were concerned about ensuring that your directions, ideas or proposals were being correctly understood by your employees, clients or vendors, could you accomplish that certainty without visual cues? Of course you could. People do it every day with communication over the telephone.

So, visual cues are a luxury, not a necessity. The competent communicator is not made more so by adding video.

Again, videoconferencing does have its place, but its utilization for general purpose conferencing can actually be distracting and counterproductive.

No, I am not ready for my close up…

In a perfect world, we would be able to meet in-person, face-to-face whenever desired or necessary. It’s the ideal condition for communication of all kinds, including business. And most of us have plenty of experience at it—being present with others, speaking to them and having them speak to us—beginning with our families.

However, the videoconferencing environment is not the exact same experience with just some hardware between parties. Videoconferencing requires actions and focuses of attention that may be neither natural nor required during in-person exchanges. For instance, due to the location of most web cameras (at the top edge of the screen), you can never really achieve eye contact with the other person in a teleconference. Another potentially non-optimum condition for some people is having to remain unnaturally still, which can and does cause discomfort for some teleconferencing participants. Many people are happy to participate in meetings or conferences without having to have the attention focused completely on them, as can happen in a video environment. These comfort issues are not issues at all with audio teleconferencing.  

Now, this may be a dirty little secret for some, but there are times when one’s workload is such that they cannot devote 100 percent of their attention to a lengthy conference call; they must multi-task. At such times (perhaps this is all the time for many of us), audio teleconferencing is sufficient and preferable (and it allows one to continue their other tasks, undetected).

So, it’s easy to see that none but the most critical or special situations requires or would benefit from videoconferencing.

Watching Your Bottom Line

While the upfront costs of videoconferencing hardware are certainly less now than they were in the beginning, there are costs nonetheless. The same goes for professional videoconferencing services, such as what is available today in cloud-based apps. In short, there are fees. The cost for the bandwidth and stability required for truly professional-level videoconferencing (we’re not talking Google Hang Outs or Skype here), especially used routinely, can be substantial (especially if it’s really not necessary): Desktop solutions can run into the hundreds of dollars per employee and it can grow from there, into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, such as for a state of the art “telepresence” system.    

And there upon the desk sits the humble telephone, which may be part of an existing system that already contain everything you need to conduct an audio teleconference. No additional hardware, no (or low) additional costs.  

In the event that your conference requires a visual presentation in addition the the audio, there is a healthy range of widely used screen-sharing and document-sharing applications and services. Some of them, like Google Docs or Dropbox, can even under some circumstances be used for free and across a wide range of platforms (Smartphone, tablet, desktop).

In Conclusion

There are times when videoconferencing is a must: to close an important deal, to welcome a new client or team member, or to service a VIP client. But these times are the exception rather than the rule, not only on the basis of expense but also in terms of potential lost productivity and the demands it may put on participants who would rather not be “forced into the limelight.”

For you general teleconferencing needs, audio teleconferencing is still here, still widely used, and still a teleconferencing workhorse.

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