Conferencing in Office Communicator

Conferencing was a large investment for OCS and OC in the 2007 release. We define conferencing as a conversation having three or more participants in it. This can be IM, Audio, Audio/Video, data (Live Meeting), or any combination of those items. For Communicator, we worked hard to keep the fact that it is a “conference” fairly transparent in our user experience. In this article I will explain how easy it is to take advantage of conferencing assuming that you have a conference supported version of OC/OCS 2007.

Turn Two Party call into a Conference

Let’s take a simple example. You are having an audio call with someone and you realize that you should bring another person into the conversation to help answer a question. There are two ways to do this:

1. Press Invite and select them from a contact picker.
(Note the presence letting you know the likelihood of them being able to join.)

2. Find them in your contact list and drag them into the conversation

Either operation will cause a conference to be created seamlessly. On your side the main difference will be an additional person in the conversation.

You didn’t have to accept, join, or create anything special to do this. Communicator will support a conference of over 100 people if you so desire!

Start Ad-hoc Conference

In addition to turning an existing conversation into a conference, it is also just as easy to start a conference from the very beginning. Below are three common methods to begin a conference.

Start with existing contact group

Use the groups you’ve created in your contact list as a starting point, especially for IM conferences. This will send an IM to everyone in the ‘Project A’ group (below).

Before starting your conference you may want to first provide a subject, so those that are invited will see that as part of the toast they receive to join. You can set the subject by selecting the menu drop-down on the far right of the conversation window.

You can verify it was changed by viewing the title in the conversation window.

Start with specific contacts

Another option is to select the people you want by pressing CTRL+ selecting each contact and then right-click to bring up the context menu. From there you can pick what modality you’d like.

Or you could start an audio/video call with those participants right away.

Start from an email in Outlook

Another really powerful scenario involves the integration of Communicator into Outlook. You can start a group IM directly in Outlook after you notice that everyone’s presence is indicating they are available. Ginger describes this in one of her posts.

Schedule a Conference Call from Outlook

Given the ad-hoc nature of Communicator it is assumed that it would do well with the scenarios I described above. However, scheduled conference calls are a very common scenario for many people today. When you install the Conferencing Add-In for Microsoft Outlook, you will be able to schedule a Live Meeting or Communicator Conference Call. See Cameron’s recent post on how to schedule and join OC conference calls.

Join from alternate device

Imagine you need to step away from your desk, but still want to join the conference call on your cell. You can do this by selecting the Join From button and then selecting the number you want to be called at. The conferencing server will automatically call you at that number so you can join.

TIP: To configure devices to show up you must provide phone information in the Phone tab in the Tools|Options dialog, as shown in a previous post.

Additionally, you don’t need to worry about how to invite others. All OC users will receive a familiar toast and have the option to accept it and join with OC or join from an alternate number also.

When contacts join from an alternate device using OC, their display name will be visible in the conference for others to see even though they are using an alternate device.

Invite a phone number

Just because you are having an OC conference, doesn’t mean that everyone has to be using Communicator. At any point you can always invite someone by typing their phone number and OCS will dial-out to them automatically. Doing this is very similar to what was shown earlier. You select Invite and then type the number you want to dial and press OK.

When that user answers their phone, they will automatically be added to the conference and will be able to participate with audio only.

Multimodal Communication

During a conference, like two party conversations, you can always add audio, audio/video, and even Live Meeting. Each participant will be notified and they have the option to join the new modes of communication.

Upon joining everyone will be able to see how others are participating in the conference (IM, audio, or both).

You can see above that Jerry is only on audio and is currently on Hold, probably answering another call. You can also see that Vincent is not on audio and only participating in IM. Everyone else is doing both IM and on the phone, while Mizue is currently talking.

Conference Commands

There are additional features that become available to Leaders when you are in a conference that can be accessed by right-click on a conference participant. This will bring up a context menu with extra commands enabled.

1. Make Leader – this will make the selected person a Leader also
2. Mute – the leader can mute themselves or anyone else using a conference mute
     a. Note: the other participants can always un-mute themselves
3. Remove from Conference – this will remove the contact immediately

Hopefully, this post has made it clear how easy and familiar the conference experience is in Office Communicator.

Brandon Taylor
Program Manager
Published Friday, June 06, 2008 10:00 AM by octeam
Filed Under: Conferencing

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