Despite the advances made in email, instant messaging and social media, the humble conference call remains the most effective way of getting a lot of people together to talk –regardless of time zones or locations. But the conference call is not just for business people to chat about sales figures, new ideas and whoever is late joining the call. It has also been a catalyst for some of the most important discussions in history – that have shaped the world, as we know it.
Political leaders, cultural icons and science trailblazers have all used the conference call to deliver news or discuss ideas that would go on to have a profound effect on how we live. Here are four of the most impactful conference calls of all time:
1. Dialling From Space
On 20 July 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon picked up the phone in the Oval Office at the White House and spoke with two men who had travelled a fair distance to take his call. Their names: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Their location: The Moon. While the dialogue looked more than a little scripted, Nixon’s short conversation with the Apollo 11 astronauts is undoubtedly one of the most important and internationally significant conference calls of all time. Nixon referred to the call as ‘the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House’. Despite the many that have been made since it probably still is.
2. The Conference Call That Changed Football
Football is a global phenomenon, and Manchester United and its erstwhile manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, were some of the biggest players in the game throughout the Nineties and Noughties. For fans, it can sometimes feel as though a big transfer deal claims more column inches in the press than any single game, competition or trophy. But perhaps the most important of them all didn’t happen in the mega-spending summers of 2016 and 2017. Instead, it took place in 1992, when Leeds United Chairman, Bill Fotherby, called his Manchester United counterpart, Martin Edwards, to discuss the potential transfer of left back Denis Irwin. Unfortunately for Leeds, Edwards was not the only person in the room, listening to the call. With him was the now legendary manager, Alex Ferguson, who wrote one name on his boss’ notepad – Cantona. The transfer was discussed, the deal agreed, and new life was breathed into Manchester United, the Premier League, and English football.
3. Saving The World, One Call At A Time
During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the world stood on the brink of a potentially catastrophic conflict. The situation required international diplomacy and constant contact between world leaders. John F. Kennedy, then U.S. President, relied heavily on conference calls with his colleagues and peers, including UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. These calls were to communicate the particulars of the ongoing situation and agree a unified response. The JFK Library holds many call transcripts that you can still read to this day. Crisis avoided.
4. Cross-Continent Conferencing
Today we join conference calls frequently and the technology that enables them has become ubiquitous. So much so that it has lost the power to surprise or amaze us – like every life-changing innovation eventually does. So let’s journey back to a time when conference calling wasn’t such a common experience. The year is 1915 and the people on the call are Thomas Watson, the mayors of San Francisco and New York, U.S, President Woodrow Wilson, and Alexander Graham Bell, conducting the first trans-continental voice call. This momentous occasion necessitated the installation of 730,000 pounds of copper cables, across a network that spanned right across the whole USA. Along with new technologies that would amplify sound to travel over 3,400 miles.
Although in many ways now considered a ‘basic’ technology, the conference call has facilitated some of the most important decisions and moments in recent times. Today conference calls are still fundamental in allowing world leaders and icons to speak, person-to-person, face-to-face and voice-to-voice, whenever and wherever they need to. Just think of the political negotiations around Brexit, the globalisation of sport, or the rising trend in flexible working. These will ensure the continued relevance of the conference call for every industry long into the future.