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Ways to Conference with Family and Friends

This year, many can’t travel as much as wanted for the holidays, so how can we still stay connected? A lot of people are planning a virtual meet with their family and friends, so let’s talk about ways to do this:

  1. Phone teleconference: 
    • Pros: For older people, this can be a great option, as people know how to answer their phones. For younger people, they can easily be reminded of the meeting by the ringing of their phones. You don’t need to have Internet connection – only telephone service. There is no limit on call length. 
    • Cons: It can take a while to get everyone into the conference if you’re not using traditional teleconferencing software. Cell phone carriers do have limits on the amount of people you can conference in – usually 6 in total is the limit. You are also limited to voice communication, which can make it difficult to involve everyone in the conversation. 
    • How to:
      1. On iPhone, call one person. For every subsequent person you want to add, hit + add call. Dial the person in question, and then hit merge call. Make sure everyone can hear each other, but as long as nothing says hold at the top, you should be good. 
      2. On Android, call one person. For every subsequent person you want to add, hit + add call. Dial the person in question, and then hit merge call. Make sure everyone can hear each other, but as long as nothing says hold at the top, you should be good. 
      3. For other phones, please read the manual as to how to complete this. 
  2. Online teleconferencing:
    • There are a few different options for online teleconferencing. The most popular (and accessible) options are Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Apple FaceTime, and Skype. So let’s talk about the options:
      1. Zoom:
        • Pros: With the proliferation of Zoom for just about everything, many people have Zoom accounts and know how to use them. You can also dial in through the phone to meetings. Zoom is available on all platforms. 
        • Cons: Unless you have a paid account, meetings with three participants or more can only last 40 minutes. With a basic paid account, meetings can be up to 100 participants and as long as you want. For people who don’t know how to use Zoom, it can be difficult to use. 
      2. Google Meet:
        • Pros: Many people have the Google account needed to use Google Meet. Meet is available as an app for mobile devices as well and is automatically loaded on Android devices. You can also dial in through the phone to meetings. You can have up to 100 participants. 
        • Cons: You need to have a Google account in order for the app and the Internet browser to work. Unless you have a paid account, the meeting can only be up to 60 minutes. 
      3. Microsoft Teams:
        • Pros: This app is installed on any computer that has Microsoft 365 installed on it, and it boots automatically unless it’s been turned off. You can keep it on for up to 16 hours with as many as 300 people. You can dial in through the phone to meetings. Teams is available as an app for mobile devices as well. 
        • Cons: Microsoft Teams really does require Microsoft 365 subscription to use. Some people are really familiar with Teams, but some people are not.
      4. FaceTime
        • Pros: This option allows for voice and video, but you also have the option for only audio. Answering it works much like a normal phone call. There is no limit on call length. 
        • Cons: Everyone must have either an iPhone or a Mac computer. You do need to have data or Internet access available. You can have up to 32 people, which is enough for many families. The size of the screen can make it difficult to see everyone.
      5. Skype
        • Pros: Quite a few people have accounts. It also used to be automatically installed with Microsoft Office – and on some devices as well. Skype is free. It works for up to 10 hours and 50 people. It is available on all platforms. You can call phones with your Skype if you have a subscription. 
        • Cons: Skype is clunkier to use than a lot of other online teleconferencing options. You have to be connected with everyone you Skype with. You can only dial into meetings if you have Skype for Business. 

Our recommendation: If everyone is technology-challenged, phone conferencing will be the easiest.  Video calling provides the closest to a real experience and can provide a better experience for some people, as long as the least technologically experienced can dial in to the meeting. 

If everyone in your family is on the same kind of phone (iPhone or Android), using the native app (FaceTime for iPhone and Google Meet for Android) is going to be the easiest. For everyone else, a Zoom call is probably the easiest, especially if someone has a paid Zoom account. However, what you choose will likely depend on the kind of paid accounts people have access to. The person with the paid account is going to have to host the meeting.

While each platform looks slightly different, the procedure is more or less the same. After deciding when you are doing your gathering and what program you will use to connect, the host should create the meeting and share information on how to participate. It’s best to share the entire invitation because while many people can get in with just the link, not everyone enters that way. 

Do you need help setting up the meeting or getting a computer set up for online video conferencing? At Tech Lab, we have worked with many people to get them a webcam and microphone and learn how to use online video conferencing. We would be happy to help you no matter how many people you are trying to connect with. Call us at 414-208-4682.

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