Web conferencing services
Web conferencing services comparison chart for 2017
Web conferencing services explained
With a web conferencing service you can hold seminars and meetings, run training sessions, give presentations and conduct other events online, without having to bring people together in one location.
Web conferencing services allow a number of people (anything from two to hundreds) to talk to each other via a microphone and speakers or headphones connected to their computers.
Most services also allow people to type messages to each other, view presentation slides and see each others’ computer desktops.
You might even be able to see each other (if you have webcams) and all contribute to a virtual whiteboard. This shared area on screen is great for brainstorming and sketching ideas.
Web conferencing services aimed at larger meeting groups may also include features to help the meeting organizer manage discussions and handle questions.
Types of web conferencing services
There are two types of web conferencing service:
Software-based services may sometimes offer more features than web-based services. However, web-based services are usually easier to set up.
Save time and money
The exact features available in a web conference depend on the service you use and the capabilities of your computer. For instance, a fast internet connection is required to see video of other participants – and you’ll need a webcam to show video of yourself.
A well-chosen web conferencing service will provide you with a great way to hold meetings with people on a regular basis. It’ll help you stay in touch regularly, without have to travel for hours or spend a fortune.
To find a web conferencing service that fits your requirements, consider these key items.
Many web conferencing services limit how many people can attend a conference. If you need to hold more than one conference at a time, choose a service which allows simultaneous web conferences.
For infrequent use consider a pay-as-you-go service where you pay for each individual conference you hold. Subscription services with a monthly or annual charge are better for frequent users. Some web conferencing services charge extra for each individual meeting participant. These are only good value for small conferences.
Nearly all web conferencing services include some audio capability. Meeting participants may be able to talk to each other using a microphone and speakers connected to their computer. This is called voice over internet protocol (VOIP). For the best-quality sound, it requires a fast internet connection. Some conferencing services require you to call a special telephone number to talk to other people in the meeting. This guarantees good quality audio, but can be more expensive.
Video is most useful for showing one person as they give a presentation to others. Some services let all participants show video of themselves, but this can be hard to follow on the screen and requires a fast internet connection.
Slides, screen sharing and whiteboard
Slide and screen sharing lets one person in a web conference show presentation slides – or whatever’s on their computer screen – to the others. It’s very useful for giving presentations and demonstrations. Most web conferencing services include slide and screen sharing as standard.
A shared whiteboards is an area onto which anyone can add text, images or diagrams. They’re great for brainstorming sessions.
Text chat and feedback systems
Text chat lets conference participants send each other short text messages. These can be private, or can appear in a chat window viewable by everyone in the conference. Text chat is a useful ‘backchannel’ for comments or questions during presentations.
This valuable feature records your conference as it happens, so you can play it back again or skip through to particular points. It’s particularly handy if you need a record of discussions, or want to make the web conference available to people who weren’t able to attend.
Most web conferencing systems will run on most modern computers, so compatibility is not a big issue. Conference problems are more likely to be caused by slow or unreliable internet connections.
However, it’s important to note that web-based services will often only run properly with an up-to-date web browser.
Ease of use
It’s important your web conferencing service is easy to use, both for the meeting organizer and for attendees. The only real way to test this is to try out a web conferencing service. Many offer a trial period or free version with limited features.
Help and support
If you plan to hold important meetings with your web conferencing service, it’s worth spending a little extra for good telephone support. This will ensure you can get help if anything goes wrong during a web conference.
Here are our answers to the most common questions about website hosting.
Q. What is a web conference?
A. It’s a meeting held in a virtual meeting space on the internet. Instead of getting people together in the same location, everyone logs in with their computer. Holding a meeting or giving a presentation via a web conference means people can attend no matter where they are located.
Q. Do I need a web conferencing service?
A. A web conferencing service is the only practical way to hold a web conference, where you want to be able to show and share items as well as talk to each other. If there is no visual element to your meeting (for instance, you don’t need to see the other people nor have slides to show), a teleconference might be a better option.
Q. What equipment do I need to use a web conferencing service?
A. Usually you need a reasonably-modern computer with up-to-date web browser software (like Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox or Google Chrome). You also need a broadband internet connection – the faster the better.
You will require a microphone and headphones or speakers to speak to other people in the conference. A webcam can be useful too, if you want other people to be able to see you.
Q. What sort of internet connection do I need to hold a web conference?
A. You really need a broadband internet connection to hold a web conference. Basic broadband should be enough for acceptable audio, but faster is better – particularly if you plan to use video.
Q. How much technical knowledge do I need to use web conferencing?
A. Generally, not much. You can usually join a web conference simply by clicking a link.
Setting up a web conference can be a little more involved. If you’re completely new to web conferencing, choose a service with telephone support so you can get help if you need it.
Q. Are web conferencing services secure?
A. Web conferencing services should keep your meetings private by asking for a password before allowing you to join a web conference.
For extra security, choose a service which encrypts all the data you send. This ensures it can’t be read – even if someone intercepts it.
Here’s our guide to key web conferencing terms.
Gives you control over what messages are displayed during your web conference. You may be able to approve messages before they are displayed in the conference chat room, or be able to change or delete messages from other people. Moderation is useful during large conferences. You can use it to keep the conversation on track or ignore repeated questions.
Gives you a unique, ‘friendly’ website address for your web conferences. This makes you look more professional when you send the address to others.
Poll people in your web conference to get instant feedback. Find out what people would like to see you cover next in a presentation, or gauge people’s views on an issue under discussion.
Presenter preparation mode
If you are presenting to a group of people, presenter preparation mode lets you get ready in private. You can load and check your slides, practice demonstrations and try out the available tools without revealing your presentation to other people in the meeting.
Allows you to show what’s on your computer screen to all the people in your web conference. Screen sharing is ideal for demonstrating software or showing a website.
Keeps your web conference safe from online hackers by scrambling all the information you send across the internet. SSL encryption practically guarantees that nobody can snoop on your meeting or conference.
Enables you to control who attends your web conference by issuing a unique username and password to each person you wish to participate.
Stands for ‘voice over internet protocol’. VOIP converts your voice into data which can be transferred across the internet. Web conferencing systems use VOIP so you can speak to people in the meeting without having to make a telephone call.
A shared area onto which conference participants can add text, images and drawings. It’s designed to work like a normal whiteboard, so is useful for sharing ideas, demonstrating concepts and brainstorming.
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