What is a Conference Call? Defining Common Conferencing Terms

With so many conference call services out there today, there are always new terms added to the teleconferencing industry lexicon. Particularly with the advent of video conferencing, it seems like there is always a new service to combine yet more features into the same calling and virtual meeting service.

But as an individual or small business owner shopping around for these services, you are probably simply thinking, but what does it all mean? Let’s lay out some of the common terms that you’ll come across so you can more easily learn what you need and don’t need for your own conference calls.

Conference call

A conference call is an audio call, typically done by phone, that allows more than two participants to speak or listen to each other on one call. It can be used simply to discuss something with a small group of people, or to host a larger event or meeting with a few key speakers and more attendees listening in.

Toll-free conference call

A toll-free conference call is a method of phone conferencing that allows the host to provide a toll-free 800 number to participants, ensuring that they do not face any long distance charges they may incur to dial in. Toll-free numbers can even be provided to international guests to access a call. Read more about toll-free conference calls here.

Toll conference call

A toll conference call is a typical conference call by phone that allows the host to pay a rate for the service, while any attendees that might face long-distance charges to call in pay those fees themselves. This type of service offers a unique phone number to use to dial into the call, but it is not a toll-free 800 number. Read more about toll conference calls here.

Operator assisted call

Conference calls that have assistance from an operator provide help and support to the conference host via a live operator present throughout the call. A live operator can make the conference run smoothly by assisting with screening and greeting participants as they join the call, moderating Q&A sessions, recording, compiling post-conference reports, etc. Read more about operator assisted calls here.

International conferencing

International conference calls allow participants from outside the host’s country and all over the world to dial in easily to the same call. Phone conferencing services will offer toll or toll-free phone numbers to international participants, with specific codes or dial-in instructions to make joining in from any country straightforward and easy. Hosts can also choose to take international conferencing online with a web conferencing service. Read more about international conference calls here.

Webinar / web conference

A webinar is a neologism meaning a web-based seminar. It typically involves a one-way video feed shared with an audience that can participate through feedback features like polling and chat. Web conference is a more general term encompassing webinars, and could involve a conference with more than one video feed and other features within an online platform.

Desktop sharing / screen sharing

Desktop or screen sharing is a feature of web conferencing that allows the host to share his or her computer or other device screen with the participants of the conference. With this feature, everyone involved can view in real time the applications, files, and any other activity on the screen just as the host does.


VoIP is an acronym that stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, which refers to audio that is transmitted digitally over the internet, rather than through an analog phone. A VoIP service allows one to call others with the same VoIP service, or sometimes any other normal phone number. VoIP is often offered along with web conferencing services, but a regular phone line can also be used for higher-quality audio, or even to hook up to a VoIP adapter if necessary.

Whiteboard / markup tools

Whiteboard or markup tools are common features of web conferencing that allow participants more freedom in participation and collaboration. Each member of a team can typically type notes, draw, or add images to the same document, or annotate existing slides, images, or documents, allowing for interactive brainstorming and discussion in meetings.

Polling / Q&A / raise hand

Many web (as well as phone) conferencing services provide several tools to allow participants to provide feedback regarding the content of the conference. Hosts can take a poll to have participants vote on a question, conduct a question and answer session to address topics from the audience, or gauge a quick general reaction from a “raise hand” button. These tools are particularly important for conferences designed to have one or a few main speakers with the rest of the participants only listening in.

Webcasting / audiocasting

Webcasting and audiocasting are methods of broadcasting a streaming audio or video file over the internet, either live or on demand. A streaming video or audio feed means that playback can proceed continuously while subsequent data is received. This type of service is used when one wants to share video or audio with a very large group of people—more than a typical phone or web conference. Read more about webcasting here.


Built-in analytics come with many web conferencing services, including audio streaming and webcasting, for which tracking data on large audiences can be particularly essential. Numerical and visual data allows hosts to track statistics on number of attendees, return on investment, and lead generation in order to improve conferencing services and build business over time.


Hosts of ongoing webcasts, audiocasts, or other web conferencing series often have the option to provide their streaming files via a custom URL, with a website that features a company logo or other information to promote their brand to all watching. This tool allows for more customization and the ability to promote a business through traffic to a dedicated page.

At Conference Calls Unlimited, we want to make it simple to select and use a conference call service. We believe that conference call users should be as informed as possible on the different features available to them in the industry, to better understand the scope of their service and the comparisons they can make between options for their business needs. Feel free to reach out to us at any time with questions, or to start designing a custom package of services of your own.