Conference calls are no longer the expensive privilege of big corporations. They have become so cheap and cheerful that churches are using them to broadcast sermons, and many other grassroots community organizations are keeping in touch and promoting better communication with teleconference technology.

But each organization has its own unique structure and operations.

Could Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) benefit from adding teleconferencing to the mix?

If it ain’t broke…

AA is a fairly conservative social movement. The twelve steps and the face-to-face meeting system have proven themselves to be very effective at promoting recovery in a very difficult area of service. The stakes are high, and many of the constituency is prone to coping strategies including denial, and trying to wriggle out of personal responsibility.

When dealing with communication as crucially sensitive, there is nothing as effective as sitting in a room together with a group of people.

Recovered alcoholics are not likely to abandon the system that aided their recovery, but could it be augmented? Let’s examine if conference calls could help AA meetings serve their purpose.

The evolution of conference calls

We used to look up at the moon and appreciate its light as we rode our horse home. Now some of us have walked on the moon, and flown safely home in a steel can.

Teleconferencing has evolved so much since the telephone was invented, and people living in the country could talk on their “party line.” seeing how they might fit with the AA way of doing things.

  1. Teleconferencing is free. AA is free. So far so good.
  2. Conference calls are so easy to set up that anyone with a phone can participate. Skype calls and VOIP calls require downloads and computers to operate, but there are no barriers to phone based FreeConference calls.
  3. Skype calls can also be ruined by robotic voices, and weird echoes. AA does not need a communication system that adds in mysterious “Voices”, or sounds like it has the staggers and jags. Conference calls by telephone however, have crystal clear audio signal, so everyone can hear each other perfectly. Every little inflection in a voice comes through.
  4. The heart of AA is Face-to-Face communication. People like to look each other in the eye when disclosing personal details. Video Conferencing in small groups is free, and very inexpensive for larger groups, probably less than bus fare to get to a meeting.

The technology of conference calls is now smooth, barrier free, and affordable. There are also many new calling Features which are worth examining for their compatibility to AA.

Handy Features

Several of the new features available might make conference calls helpful to AA. Call Scheduling is a feature, which makes setting up Recurring Calls a snap, with automatic Invitations and Reminders. One of the great strengths of AA is meeting regularly, and conference call technology reinforces regularity, for free.

One feature that probably wouldn’t be used is Call Recording, which sends an MP3 file by email of the entire meeting within two hours. Given confidentiality issues, this might not be ideal, although it might be useful for annual general meetings and administrative meetings, especially those where not everyone can attend.

Recorded calls can be transformed into Word documents through Transcription, which makes for great permanent records of decisions, and meeting minutes.

Moderator Controls have become very sophisticated over the years, with settings for Presentation Mode, with one main speaker on and everyone else muted, and Q & A Mode, where participants can unmute themselves.

Most AA participants have very sophisticated meeting skills. They know when to listen and when to talk, so the default Conversation Mode would probably be fine.

One place Moderator Controls might come in handy, is so that the moderator can ensure that all the callers are authorized to attend the meeting, for privacy’s sake.

Videoconferencing is the most interesting modern option, bringing the true power of Face-to-Face to conference calls. You can even videoconference on any smart phone, although a laptop offers more view options.

None of the new modern conference call features need downloads of any kind. They are all completely secure and private. If you have the incoming number for the conference call, you can attend. If you don’t, you can’t.

How teleconferencing could potentially help AA

Churches are one type of community organization that are getting more and more into using conference calls, and it is possible that some of the benefits churches enjoy would be the same.

AA groups in rural communities, or where some members have limited travel abilities or mobility issues, could use conference calls to enable people to attend meetings they might not otherwise make.

Another place teleconferencing could help AA is that, although most calls to sponsors are one-on-one calls, sometimes small conference calls could be set up between 2-3 callers, such as a sponsor, and a health professional, or pastor.

Although AA is all over the world, and people are encouraged to use local AA groups, it would surely not be that bad an option to be able to check in with one’s home group when far away, even if only for the portion of a meeting. Churches use this function regularly. Toll Free Numbers are very easy to set up in these situations.

Communication through conference calls is convenient, free, and of very high quality. Conference calls will never replace face to face all sit down meetings for AA, but they might provide a lifeline for some.