Data Doctors: Virtual meetings options growing - East Valley Tribune: Business

Data Doctors: Virtual meetings options growing

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2007 1:23 pm | Updated: 7:38 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Q. On occasion I have the need to hold online meetings with folks from around the country. Are there any cost-effective online meeting tools for those of us who only need it three or four times a year? — Joseph

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Q. On occasion I have the need to hold online meetings with folks from around the country. Are there any cost-effective online meeting tools for those of us who only need it three or four times a year? — Joseph

A. Virtual meetings can be a very cost-effective way to meet, and the options for meeting continue to grow. The video teleconferencing trend started more than a decade ago, but the cost of these elaborate video-based systems is not for the casual user. Many found they didn’t really need to see the other participants; they just needed to see the presentation materials that were connected with the meeting.

This made way for less expensive “online collaboration” tools that would allow presenters to share their screens via the Internet with all of the participants while on a telephone conference call (and add a webcam if you really needed to see what the others looked like).

These tools have developed over the years into sophisticated meeting and training tools that include features such as recording the audio and display screens (great for building a training library), transferring control of the presentation to any of the participants and support for Windows, Mac and Linux users on the same session. Most of the tools give you the option to use a toll or toll-free telephone number for the phone conference call , so everything you need to hold an online meeting is included.

A number of services are available for online meetings, but what you want to do during the meeting and how many participants will be involved are the primary factors that will determine the best fit for you.

If you don’t care about recording the sessions, don’t need room for more than 10 attendees and don’t mind a little advertising during your meeting, there are free services such as that could fit the bill. You can use it as many times as you want but never with more than 10 attendees at a time.

If you want to be able to record the sessions, avoid the advertising and add options such as session scheduling or mouse and keyboard sharing, you can upgrade to one of Yugma’s pay services, which start at $9.95 a month or $99.50 per year (10 users).

If you want to hold larger meetings (15 to 25) and want reports on everything that happened during the session (including how many people went to another screen during the presentation) another service to consider is GoToMeeting, which starts at $49.95 a month.

Webex has a number of services for small businesses, including a “pay-per-use” option that charges 33 cents per user per minute, plus 20 cents per user per minute if you want to use their integrated teleconferencing system.

Or if you want to host a “Webinar” (Web seminar) where up to 1,000 attendees can see the presentation and listen to the conversation but not speak during the meeting (they can interact through a chat interface), you may want to look into GoToWebinar, starting at $99 per month.

The way that all of these systems work is the person “hosting” the meeting installs the software that allows the host to start or schedule a session. The software shares their desktop with others and sends invitations via e-mail to the desired attendees. The attendees click on the link in the e-mail just before the beginning of the session so that the software that allows them to join the session can be installed. As the attendees connect to the online meeting, the host’s dashboard shows who has connected so they can determine when they want to start the meeting. The audio is carried via a standard conference call phone number.

If any of these services seem interesting, you can take look for the free trial option at each site.

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