Web Conferencing

We recently went through an evaluation of web conferencing or webinar software. There is considerable overlap between applications for videoconferencing and webinar software. However, most webinar software includes the components below, sometimes as extra-cost add-ons, and sometime including in the full bundle, or “pro” version.

Typical increments are 24, 100, and 500 participants. “Meetings” are usually limited to around 24 participants. “Webinars” can go up to 100, 500 and above.  Some vendors have a free version for three or four participants. and many vendors have initial 30-day trials that don’t require a credit-card

Platforms:
In addition for desktop applications that run on Windows and Macs, many vendors have apps for IOS and Android. Some newer programs are HTML5 only, and require only a modern browser. Older programs may install various plugins and additions such as Flash, Java or Silverlight to help with video and audio conferencing. In general these seem to work OK, but it is an extra step that is required before attending the webinar, Inexperienced users may require support to get plugins installed.

Before the Webinar

Assuming that you aren’t having a spontaneous web meeting, many packages allow you to schedule a webinar and have people pre-register to attend. The package may send out eMail invitations, or at the very least, you can obtain a unique Url to copy and paste into an email invitation sent from your own eMail account. If the package allows registration, then you can see how many have registered, and their locations and email addresses.

The Toolbox

Screen sharing:  Display a screen, an application, or a window interactively to show how to use a program. You may also be able to have another person share their screen with the full group, or have them control your screen.

Presentations: Display a presentation using PowerPoint or KeyNote.

Videoconferencing: Allows the presenter to appear full-screen or, when showing a presentation or whiteboard  to appear in a shrunken window in a corner.  Some software allows for several videoconferencing streams simultaneously, to give a CNN effect.

YouTube Videos: Choose a YouTube video and play it within your webinar.

Chat Window:  This is helpful if people need to alert the technical team if they are having  problems. Chat is also a way for people to ask questions of the presenter, and provide commentary on the presentation. Chats can also be restricted to the presenters only, or to one-on-one conversations.

Whiteboard: Allows you to annotate and draw on either a blank white board, or on an existing document. Never used it myself.

Other considerations.

Audio: Most webinar applications have some provision for people to talk and listen via a separate voice line. This is especially helpful when he voice-over-ip audio is substandard; people will tolerate problems with the video or presentations, but most of us have a much lower tolerance for problems with the sound. External voice integration varies from vendor to vendor, with some plans including a custom toll-free number for each of your presentations. Payment can also vary; sometimes the participant has to pay, at other times you do, or it may be free.

Recording:
Some programs include recording as part of their functionality. With others, it is an add-on. Personally I watch many webinars as recorded events, as I’m unable to watch them in real-time, and often don’t find a live version to have any added value over a recorded version.

And the Envelope Please!
Because we use GotoMeeting on a regular basis, we decided to stick with it, so chose GoTo Webinar, the extended version of GTM for up to 200 participants. We already know how to use it, and it appears to be pretty reliable. During testing we found some webinar software not to be as reliable as we might have hoped, with problems related to screen-sharing or audio.

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