The Virtual Meeting Landscape:
The first step in selecting the best-of-the-best is to define the types
of conferencing services and what they are designed to do.
There are 3 basic categories of conferencing platforms:
- Conferencing: Real-time Conferencing (Phone, Web, or Video)
- Webinars: Virtual seminars, typically audio-based with PowerPoint graphics
- Webcasts: Broadcasting on the web
In the interest of making these articles shorter and quicker to read, we will discuss each of these categories in a separate article. In this article, we’ll look at Webinar solutions. Then we’ll pick our favorites.
As the name indicates, these services are designed to deliver the type of content one would expect to find in a seminar with a large audience. Think of it as an auditorium or big classroom where you can deliver your communication or learning content to a large group and record it for future use. However, your collaboration and interactivity with the participants is reduced due to the size of the audience.
Because of this larger audience size and more formal nature of the presentation, moderating (controlling who can speak and present) becomes more important, and the collaborative sharing of content between participants is less important. Audio is typically handled by a phone conference service or VoIP, and the audio can be heard by the attendee over the phone, on their computer or smart device. Normally 1-5 presenters contribute to the webinar. These services are very good at sharing the presenter’s desktops and applications, such as PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. Since you are dealing with larger audiences (typically 100-500 people), audio questions could be quite time-consuming. Therefore, questions are asked via a text field on the interface. The moderator or the presenters can then select and read the questions as they come in, or during formal Q&A sessions.
Webinars are a little more difficult to setup than web-conferences, as there are some extra layers you must consider. You should predetermine your group of presenters, plus you have a larger audience pool to deal with. The licenses are more expensive ($99-200 per month) than web-conferencing solutions, so fewer administrators usually have the ability to schedule and conduct webinars within a company. Webinars are not typically media-heavy, so buffering is not an issue. The latency (the lag between when a presenter says something and the attendee hears it) is about 1-4 seconds and doesn’t present a significant problem.
These solutions can easily handle 100-500 participants, but can be configured for 1,000-5,000 “seats” if necessary. Most providers have features that allow webinars to be conducted in different languages. Since the goal of these webinar solutions is to create content, they can record and host high quality on-demand versions, enabling the content to live on after the live meeting. Most of these services allow you to add “monetization” features so your participants can pay to attend and view your content.
Our Picks for Webinar Solutions
The players in this category are GotoWebinar (Citrix), Cisco WebEx Event Center, Adobe Connect, ClickWebinar, MegaMeeting, iLinc, AnyMeeting, and others. Our choice for best-in-class for web-conferencing is WebEx Event Center, closely followed by Citrix GotoWebinar. The Webex Event Center is very robust, allows easy integration with other platforms, and is the strongest we have seen when it comes to providing international features which allow you to connect with participants anywhere in the world. The Webex Event Center also allows up to 7 video feeds from presenters that can be switched by the moderator. The Citrix GotoWebinar presenter interface is unique and allows a lot of behind the scenes control, enabling the pool of presenters to control what the participants will view. However, it is more complicated than similar services, such as the complex Citrix GotoWebcast interface. The GotoWebinar on-demand edit interface is great and allows for editing and rapid posting. The other contenders in this channel all have good features and functionality. Some are stronger on monetization, so if that is important to you, MegaMeeting and AnyMeeting (PayPal integration) are worth a look.
We hope this article provided useful information for you. If you have questions or comments, please click here. Feel free to share this article if you know someone who would benefit from this information. In the next article in this series, we’ll examine Webcast solutions. We will wrap up this series with “Tips for Budgeting”, “Executing your Virtual Meetings”, and “Tips for Presenters and Participants”. Stay tuned!