Thanks to advances in technology, businesspeople have less need to travel in order to meet. Instead, executives and employees alike can take part in meetings from their computers, phones and tablets. Those meetings aren't limited to presentations, either; with the collaborative technology provided by the best web conferencing services, participants can mark up slides, work together on a whiteboard and jump in with their own diagrams or documents. As such, online-meeting services help companies increase productivity and save money.
Web conferencing services provide efficient scheduled and impromptu meetings for small and large businesses. Many accommodate international meetings as well. Our top-ranked online-conference services are Onstream Meetings, InterCall and GlobalMeet. For more information about online meetings, check out our articles on web conferencing.
As internet communications have become faster and more reliable due to new methods of data transfer and new telecommunications standards such as VoIP, web conferencing has grown from a difficult method of communication to a rich, real-time meeting medium. Virtual conferences can now incorporate multimedia, whiteboard capabilities and webcams to simulate an in-person meeting.
Web conferencing has increasingly melded with webcasting and webinar services as well. All of the companies we reviewed offer plans to accommodate both online meetings and large-audience presentations. For this site, we concentrated on small meetings that depend heavily on collaboration. If you are interested in more presentation-style format, please check our webinar services or webcasting services reviews.
A smooth meeting depends on you being able to keep control of the meeting, get everyone the information they need and ensure smooth preparation and follow-up. The ability to transfer files and share specific applications during the meeting is important for collaboration because it lets participants view demonstrations or see the data you're talking about. Passing presenter control to others makes it easy to tag-team during a meeting or let a participant take center stage for an important section. Polling allows you to take votes real-time or gather information for later study. Similarly, screenshots let you capture annotated screens for future reference.
Other useful features include a preparation mode that allows you to do a dry run of a meeting to test the software and your presentation before others enter the room. Reports help you keep track of attendance and other data for improving meetings. Integration with Outlook is an added convenience because you can schedule and launch meetings right from Outlook as well as get reminders before the meeting.
Participants should be able to easily get into the meeting with both voice and video access. Thus, the ability to get into the meeting without downloading extra programs or putting in codes is an advantage. Toll-free calling is also desirable, especially when dealing with a client rather than an employee on the company account.
Since the reason for web conferencing (as opposed to webinars) is participation and collaboration, participants should be able to jump in, not only via chat or voice Q&A, but also by annotating documents or images shared with the group and presenting their own reports and research. Thus, along with the presenter's ability to pass control, annotation tools are important. Social media integration isn't vital but can be a nice extra for getting inside information when meeting with a new client.
Web Conference Features
We looked at participant level for the programs, both at the reviewed plan level and the maximum allowed. For the maximum, however, some services switch to webinars, which may not have all the collaboration features found in web conferencing. When dealing with larger numbers of participants, it's handy to have breakout rooms. This enables smaller teams to gather privately during the meeting to work on a specific issue before returning to the group. Cloud storage is becoming more popular. More than just space on the conference network, it lets you store files and shared documents for others to access.
Help & Support
A strong support section that includes training videos, user guides and FAQs makes learning the software less stressful. Having access to phone or chat support at any time is important in case something goes wrong during a meeting that takes place at an odd hour to accommodate someone in another time zone. With remote IT support, the service's technician can have access to your computer to fix an issue. Finally, some services offer operator assistance for moderating complex meetings.
The best web conferencing services provide efficient, cost-effective technology that can greatly benefit a business. With these services, you can connect to everyone you need, from business owners and clients to work-at-home employees and independent contractors, to maintain steady communication and productivity.