After being on a phone call last week with 11,554 other people, I’ll never think of telephones as POTS –Plain Old Telephones–again.
Our exposure to an innovative way to use telephones arose through an e-learning project called “Mastery of Aging Well” produced in collaboration with AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons). In our discussions on how to move this information out to the world—specifically the AARP world—we were informed about a process AARP called TeleTown Hall. Simply put, the technique turns the phone system into a radio talk show, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of people (or more!) with targeted information.
For us, that targeted information was the variety of ways people can “master aging”, and how they can learn more about the topic online and through other available educational materials—and take action in their own lives and in the lives of their aging family members.
On the day of the program, we assembled our team. Our two hosts, Dr. Sharon Johnson from OSU (the author of Mastery of Aging Well) and Allen Douma, M.D. were joined by an AARP moderator, and three off-site screeners. Using a provider (TeleForum by Broadnet) we were able to simultaneously dial up 99,500 Oregon and Utah AARP members using information from an AARP database.
After a brief countdown, the 99,500 phone calls were launched. People who answered were welcomed with a brief pre-recorded invitation to stay on the phone to listen in and participate in the live discussion.
The screener’s job (of which I was one) was to connect to listeners who are calling in with questions for our hosts. Caller information displayed real-time in a web browser page, with their call status indicated. I simply clicked on a waiting caller’s name, welcomed them, and entered brief summary of their question. I could also tag them for follow-up if they just wanted additional information. The hosts/moderator read our screener comments, and chose which callers to connect “live” to the show–I mean phone call.
Of the 99,500 calls placed, 11,544 people joined the call, and another 50,000+ received the pre-recorded message. During the one-hour call, 51 people were screened, and the hosts were able to take 12 questions live.
And it doesn’t end with the phone calls. Three thousand people will receive a follow up letter from AARP including a copy of our Mastery of Aging Well brochure. This technology isn’t cheap: we invested $5,000 of grant money to make it happen for a footprint covering just two states. But for us it was worth it. It gave us a powerful way to have a conversation with our target audience, provide an interactive educational experience, elicit feedback, and market our e-learning materials. Obviously, it could be used for lots more. As TeleForum put it, “All you need to know is what you want to say and the people you want to say it to.”