(Editor’s note: Please welcome Caitlin Douglass, who has some experience with long-distance family relationships and some strategies for staying close to relatives you don’t see as often as you’d like.)
When you hear the words conference call, you most likely immediately think of a business call. You probably picture a bunch of people sitting around a conference table, dressed in stuffy suits, listening to a voice drone on and on while they take notes and try not to fall asleep. Chances are, you’ve actually been one of those people stuck in an interminable conference call at work. But have you ever thought about how a conference call could bring family together? If you and your family can’t all be in the same room, or even in the same state, teleconferencing can be a great way to stay in touch.
If you’re only familiar with business conference calls, you may not be sure where to begin to use conference call services for family communications. You may also have concerns about making it easy on all members of the family, including grandparents who may not be very familiar with technology. It doesn’t have to be difficult, and there are several options available.
Most people are familiar with this method. Three-way calling has been an option available on home phones and many cell phones for years. As the name suggests, it allows three people to be on the phone with each other at the same time. It’s easy to use, too. The first thing you need to do is make sure the feature is activated on your home phone account. It usually comes in landline packages along with other standard features such as caller ID and call Waiting, but double check just in case. Only one of the three people planning to participate in the call needs to have three-way calling, and it must be the person who places the calls. The advantage is that if it’s included with your phone line, there’s no extra charge for it, and you can use it whenever you like. The disadvantage is that only three people can talk to each other at once, and if you have a big family, it’s a very limiting option.
Traditional Conference Call
Just like the conference calls you may have participated in at work, a traditional conference call allows several people to take part in a phone call at once. Just one family member can sign up for a conference call service, set up the call, and then provide the necessary information to the rest of the family, which would be the number to call, and the code to enter to participate. This keeps the call private, and prevents anyone outside the family from interrupting, or using the service you paid for. Most conference call services are affordable, and you can even arrange with a few family members to share the expense. The best part about this type of call, other than being able to talk to your whole family at once, is that you don’t have to dress up in a business suit—unless you really want to.
This may sound more complicated than it actually is. At one time, it was necessary to have special equipment set up to organize and take part in a video conference call. Now it’s as easy as downloading a program onto your computer. Communications programs like Skype make video conferencing easier than ever. There are a couple of ways to use the program. First, several family members can all download and install the program, and then take part in group calls. It’s a nice benefit to be able to see people at the same time you’re speaking to each other. The second way is for at least two family members to install the program, and then get a group together to gather around the computer and get in on the call. This is a great idea if you’re not able to make it to the family reunion or grandma’s birthday party. Everyone who’s there can take turns on the computer talking to you, and you can feel as if you’re actually there since you can see everyone, and even watch grandma open the gift you sent her.
Because all three of these options are easy to use, and affordable, you can easily have all three of them available, and then use the one that fits the situation at any given time. With just a little research, a few minutes to sign up or download, and then some coordination with your family, staying in touch can be fun, and help your family stay close, no matter how far away you all are.
Caitlin Douglass is a freelance writer specializing in telecommunications, technology and productivity.
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Image courtesy of nathanmac87 via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.