Conference calls are a big part of work life today — sometimes too big. Because we spend so much time in meetings, we want conference-calling systems that that launch quickly and work flawlessly so we can get the information we need and move on to other pressing matters. The capability to browse a post-meeting transcript or zoom through an audio recording would be big bonuses, especially for fastidious note-takers who don't always catch everything in real time.
The good news is that the leading conference call services are full of features that take the sting out of group calls and online meetings. Standard features typically include audio recording capability, support for screen-sharing, automated transcripts (created by converting digital recordings into text), Web interfaces with hosting tools for managing calls and keeping track of participants, and 24/7 availability. Some services also offer personalized greetings to participants who dial in, customized hold music, operator assistance and a participant “dial-out” feature, where the service calls participants to bring them into the meeting (also referred to as "call me" functionality).
Here’s a look at eight conference call services, some of which offer certain options free of charge: ConferenceCalling.com, join.me, FreeConferenceCall.com, Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, UberConference, InterCall and WebEx.
ConferenceCalling.com aims at the small business market with two unlimited plans for meetings with up to 15 or 50 callers, and a pay-per-use plan that handles up to 300 callers. An unlimited plan lets you host any number of conference calls each month. Customers can schedule calls or host them on the fly, share screens and use an operator to assist for more complex calls. The Web-based interface is easy to use, works well with both PCs and Macs, includes essential host control tools and generates reports.
FreeConferenceCall.com is one of the first services we used back in the day to host calls with small groups, and we continue to use it because of its ease of use and familiarity — and because it's free. It includes scheduling and tracking in Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, call recording (available on demand when the call ends), a keyword transcription service and annotation and in-meeting chat tools. It also supports videoconferencing, radio streaming and cloud recording and playback. A feature called Broadcaster lets you can play audio files or pre-recorded screen-sharing sessions during live meetings.
But FreeConferenceCall.com isn't just for small meetings — it can accommodate up to 1,000 participants and calls lasting up to six hours. Customers who want to provide a U.S. toll-free number pay a per-minute fee for each caller.
FreeConferenceCall.com also offers a large meeting service for videoconferences with more than 1,000 participants.
GoToMeeting is a conferencing service owned by Citrix that supports Web-based audio meetings and high-definition videoconferencing. It includes a chat tool that lets the host communicate with individual participants. Although it doesn't have as many bells and whistles as some of its competitors, GoToMeeting is reliable, moderately priced and supports various mobile devices. It also lets users log in using their Windows usernames and passwords (through a feature called Enterprise Sign-In), which is a boon to IT administrators. Citrix offers a free plan for meetings with up to three participants and sells monthly or annual subscriptions for plans that accommodate up to 10, 50 and 100 participants.
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