We all know that when it comes to business meetings, nothing beats a face-to-face sit-down, but there are those occasions when time and budget restraints call for another option (like the time you wanted to give a 15-minute presentation to someone but didn’t want to travel four hours to do it). This is where online conferencing can come in as an ideal alternative to a face-to-face meeting. Web conferencing is now easy and affordable and can enhance a conference call with the kinds of visual aids (presentations, diagrams, videos) that used to be limited to a meeting room. What Is It?
What Is It?
Web conferencing enables you to show an image on your computer screen (website, software demo, digital presentation such as PowerPoint) to anyone with an Internet connection. When it’s used in combination with a telephone conference call, your audience can not only see the presentation (and also hear it via their computers’ speakers) but also ask questions. This way, everyone can participate in a conversation and visual presentation that is the next best thing to having everyone in the conference room.
How Does It Work?
There are many Web conferencing products on the market; a few are listed at the end of this column. They all work in slightly different ways and of course have different interfaces, but the basics are the same.
Once you create an account with a Web conference provider, you can launch the software that is provided and then schedule your Web conference. You are then given a Web address to pass along to your participants so that they can take part in the conference. When your participants go to this link they will join your Web conference, and once the conference begins, they will be able to see the presentation on their computer screens.
If you are embedding audio into your presentation, your participants can hear it via their computers’ speakers. If you plan on speaking along with the presentation, it’s best to set up a telephone conference so the attendees can hear you and ask questions (make sure beforehand that everyone has the audio enabled on their computers). Most Web conference providers partner with a telephone conference provider or offer this service directly. Attendees simply dial a telephone number (choices are often toll-free) to join the teleconference (audio) portion of your presentation.
How Much Does It Cost?
Costs vary widely for Web conferencing services. They generally start at
$50 per person per month (for up to 10 persons) with unlimited Web conferences during that month; $200 per year per person; $300 per month for up to 15 users; $99 per month for four users. Remember these are just a few sample fees of some services; you’ll find that rates vary widely. Some providers will charge you a setup fee for opening an account with them. This should not necessarily be a reason not to do business with a provider, as other things (features, price per person) might make it a better option for you overall. Some providers offer a free trial, which is worth trying out before investing in their complete package.
The teleconference portion of the Web conference carries an additional fee ranging from 7 to 35 cents per minute per person. These prices will vary depending on the type of teleconference service you choose. For example, do you want participants to dial a telephone number, or should an operator dial the participants? Do you want a toll-free number or a toll number? Do you want an operator to remain on the phone to facilitate the conference?
Features you’ll want to check into if you need them (don’t pay for what you don’t need) include polls, audio recording/archiving, audience hand waving or getting the attention of the conference moderator, chat and other features.
Web conferencing is a tool that you won’t know you needed until you’ve tried it. You may find that not only are you traveling less because you can conduct online meetings, but you are having more meetings overall because you can do them cheaper and faster online than in person. You might also want to consider Web conferencing for staff or partner training or to “connect” with a remote workforce.
One suggestion: Experts do recommend that all presenters have a practice session first, to make sure everyone is comfortable with the technology and to ensure that the presentation comes out right.
author of the book Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses, and a frequent speaker on technology issues. He can be contacted at