Is the Term “Conference Call” Obsolete?

Posted On: February 27, 2020

The other day I was reviewing a post from 2014 that used the term ‘conference call.’ As I was reviewing this post and debating on how to edit it, one of the biggest questions I had in my mind was, 

“How common is the term conference call in 2020? And, how does this impact training global, virtual teams?” 

Conference table with phones at intervals.
Conference table with phones at intervals.
These phones would be put into speaker phone mode for team calls.

Note: All images in this post were taken by the author, Jennifer
Kumar in training rooms in India between 2012-2017.

Personally, as most of the global and virtual teams I work with tend to connect over collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, Uber Conference and others, I decided to throw a question out there on Facebook and LinkedIn: 

What term or terms have replaced “conference call?”

Here are some of the 2020 Catch Phrases for 

Coming in the room early to set up the call
Are you able to see the mics placed at intervals
along the middle of the table?

Conference Call

  1. Bridge
  2. Call (with reference to the use of any web tool or online conference app)
  3. Con-Call or ConCall
  4. Dial-in Meeting
  5. Group Call
  6. Phone Meeting
  7. Scrum Call / Standup Meeting
  8. Teams Meeting (referring to Microsoft Teams)
  9. Teleconference/Telecon
  10. Town Hall
  11. Webconference
  12. WebEx (Or the tool- Skype, Zoom, Uber Conference, Hangouts, etc.)
  13. WhatsApp call

How Terminology Influences Training Global, Virtual Teams
Ah-ha! The lucky number 13– which means there must be more!! As I was listing these terms out, it was reminding me of the evolution of training virtual teams how to communicate clearly ‘over the phone’ Even if a phone was not really the gadget used, the phone was what we used to base the training around and the practice of delivery around. Now, in 2020, as I am delivering these programs online, it actually provides a perfect medium for the actual setting in which these meetings are now taking place, with the use of both audio and video. 

Phones or mics are placed in the island of the conference table
Conference room with mics placed at intervals under the
island in the middle of the table (2015). 

2014 Training Methodology

While we focused on clear voice projection over the phone, a single speaker phone along a long conference table, or along mics placed at intervals along a conference table, it was still important to have good body language and a smiling disposition, as these are still not only heard but seen over a phone line. I had a pretty good ability to detect when a person was not smiling or demonstrating bad posture on the call. In such cases, I was not even in the room. I’d ask the participants to role play conference calls from two different rooms. I’d be in a third room with walls separating us, taking notes (some images below). In almost all cases, I could accurately identify who was bending their neck while speaking or leaning too far into the table or frowning, though there was no way I could physically see them (there was no video connection between these rooms, and the machinery used to practice conference calls on were actually telephones and not web apps or online conferencing tools). 

Role plays of conference calls

Back in 2014, up until probably 2017 when I was transitioning to live back in the US, still very few teams used video in their calls on a regular basis. The only type of visual being used could have been screen sharing during product demos during release cycles or sprints. 

Voice projection is important in big rooms
Before 2017, many teams I coached had a large conference room similar to this
which had a phone and a larger speaker phone sitting on the table. Though
both machines had a speaker phone, the problem was that many may not
be able to project their voice to be heard clearly in a big room over a speakerphone.
We’d practice posture, voice projection, clear speech and presentation skills for
phone meetings
in these programs.
(Which is still relevant for virtual and global teams in 2020.) 

2020 Training Methodology 

There are a few big differences in how I conduct these trainings today and the approaches used. Firstly, the trainings I conduct in 2020 are typically 95% virtual (where as in 2014 they were 95% face to face and in person). Virtual training is actually a perfect platform to train the virtual team members in the environment they will be or already are currently working in. Today, teams are more comfortable being on a video from the office or from home. In some cases we are on video for the duration of the session, in some other cases, the participants show their video to start, end and during some breakout activities during the call. So, though we are not in the same room, we do see each other. Also, as we are conducting the program virtually, more of the materials are shared digitally, where as in 2014, most of the materials were shared in hard copy. The one advantage of the 2020 method is that it is especially easier for me to analyze emails as in 2020 (and beyond, in virtual sessions) participants will be writing emails (or instant messages and chats) to me in actual emails (in 2014-2014 these activities were done in a physical room, written on paper). So, in 2020 I am seeing their actual communication in the medium in which it will be produced in the work scenario. 

Conference room set up circa 2013.
Conference room set up circa 2013.

In 2020 there are still many individuals and teams that prefer to use voice only for team calls or StandUps, but some may use voice only if the Internet connection is slow and the video is clogging the line. Also, in some cases if the lines are clogged, status updates may be shared by text (and not voice), so we practice how to do this effectively, as well in the actual tool that they will be using with the clients or stakeholders.

Another big difference between 2014 and 2020 is that we have many more apps and instant messaging tools to connect with clients or global counterparts. What does this mean? Well, as I suggest to all my mentees, even if one meets on Zoom or any online collaboration tool, always select a back up communication tool with the client which can be used for pinging them in advance if one will be late or for emergencies. For this, I have tended to use WhatsApp with the teams I train. 

Facilitating the Meeting Management Best Practices Module of Client Relationship Management.

Facilitating the Meeting Management Best Practices
Module of Client Relationship Management.

Final Observations 
It’s interesting to see how the terminology changed so rapidly, even in a few short years. Though I am spanning six years of recently history, these terminology changes, which relate to technology changes, makes it feel much longer. While so much has changed, so much does stay the same. Though we have so many more online collaboration tools to bring our global and remote teams together, the internet connection may let us down. Even in ideal circumstances, when the Internet and the tools are working flawlessly, we may let ourselves down by not being prepared for our demo, sales webinar, stand up meeting or negotiation conversations. That’s where I can step in to work with your team. Feel free to get in touch with us today! You can also contact me (Jennifer Kumar) via US phone number +1 385-218-0947 or over WhatsApp (India number) +91 95 39347 529. Hope to hear from you soon!

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Confidently Drive Client Meetings (When It’s New to You).



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