Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Web Conference

By Chester Mungflunt

The development of web conferencing has allowed businesses to meet and communicate even more effectively than ever. Building from the earlier development of telephone conferencing, the new web conferencing technologies offer all the benefits of remote communication and event recording, with visual content and additional high value applications for sharing and collaborating on content.

The term 'web conferencing' describes services that allow a range of meetings and conferences to happen across geographically dispersed locations, using screen sharing technology. A wide range of vendors offer slightly different services, such as the ability to record events and share rich content in real time. There are a multitude of plug-in applications suitable for a range of meeting circumstances, including lectures, events, meetings and presentations - all of which can be easily managed online using simple screen sharing technology, via Macs or PCs.

These additional facilities include live streaming video, slide show presentations, VoIP (which allows live audio through a computer via headphones, speakers and the usual screen sharing technology) whiteboards and annotation, meeting recording, polls and surveys and text chat. The delegate management facilities offered allow both individuals and groups to communicate and for large conferences, the settings can be adjusted to limit two way interaction to certain sections of the event and manage the information flow effectively. Most vendors offer the means for events to be booked in advance and email interfacing to occur, so pre-event planning and communication can happen.

A number of web conferencing solutions require additional software installation for kit used by both presenter and participants and this is generally managed via downloads. Other vendors will provide specific physical hardware for their solution. Some vendors look to enhance existing technology provision and hardware and others provide a new bespoke solution, with kit such as screen sharing technology and VoIP transmitters.

Whichever solution is bought, the user can control events centrally and decide which other plug-in features they might require from the overall service package. Generally, features such as screen sharing and integration with email and calendars come as standards. Most vendors will offer different subscriptions, such as flat fee, cost per use and even basic free conferencing with add-on costed services as the free conferencing technology becomes more common. It's anticipated that free conferencing will continue to become more common as margins are sought via the paid-for apps.

As web conferencing becomes more widely adopted, language also develops to describe its services. Webinars is a new term which explains web-based seminars and which involves presentations, lectures, seminars or workshops to be hosted and shared online. There is some concern that these become rather 'one way' in terms of communication and this can be the case with larger conferences online, where two way communication and interaction must be limited. In such cases, webcast may be the more appropriate term. However, webinars are still possible with collaborative elements where additional services such as interactive polling and Q&As are incorporated. Where this interaction is required, the speaker can use regular telephone lines to speak to the audience, who can respond via their own speakerphones. Other more advanced solutions will use VoIP online audio tech, for total web-based communications.

Where greater interaction is required online, other tools include EMS systems integration (electronic meeting systems) which offer a range of tools such as brainstorming and categorisation, voting, optional anonymity and structured discussions. These tools don't generally offer the core functionality of web conferencing, such as screen-sharing, or VoIP, although some EMS systems are designed to control web conferences too.

Regardless of which solution is chosen, whether free conferencing, or paid services, they will provide a range of benefits that only build on the original advantages of telephone conferencing. Essentially, the technology removes the need for expensive and wasteful travel and makes communication ever simpler to manage. Additionally it offers more enhanced services than ever before, such as data-capture of participants and valuable recording, with ever greater integration of technology likely to continue, so that solutions will be offered in the future using mobile technologies and ever greater value-add applications.

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