Getting up to speed with online meetings

How to remain near your long-distance customers, partners and employees from far way

During doing business, there should come a time if you want to meet up with customers, employees, partners or advisors but don’t possess enough time or resources to meet up with them in person.

Your schedule has already been jam packed-do you truly have time for a gathering with your merchant in Nebraska? Or time to fully stop in on a customer in Boston? How about meeting with a potential mate or investor from Seattle who must talk with you within the next week? And it doesn’t even consider your routine business operations and the day-to-day areas of working with your visitors and employees.

So what’s a good business owner to accomplish? Here’s one solution: Consider establishing your office (mobile or elsewhere) for remote online meetings. Although online meetings may never replace a company handshake and face-to-face eye contact, they’re an excellent substitute, particularly if you and the other party are technically and psychologically ready for this.

Fourteen days ago, I lead an online meeting about e-mail marketing. I was near NEW YORK, the moderator was in Australia, and the participants, about 15 of these, were scattered through the entire USA. With the service we were utilizing, they were in a position to start to see the presentation (and other things that I placed on the screen), use instant messaging to speak to me, and use their computer’s microphone, if indeed they had one, to speak to me–and I possibly could talk back. For all those involved, it was an extremely productive time.

STARTING OUT Before considering the available options, the main element is to make certain you have an easy web connection. If your connection is slow or frequently drops, your web meeting experience will not be that good.

There are several companies offering online meeting services (also called web conferencing), plus they all work in an identical fashion. After choosing a vendor, you join the service online, then download the net conferencing software. This software will allow you to manage the complete meeting, see who’s online and manage polling, and other features that vary based on the service used, such as for example enabling you to have audio or video conversations together with your participants. You’ll also have the ability to share your desktop and applications with meeting participants so that you can conduct demonstrations, show presentations, conduct sales or product workout sessions and more.

The amount of people you decide to have in your audience depends entirely on your own budget. You should be prepared to pay $100 or more for five to 10 users. (Your participants pay nothing to see your web conference.) Prices vary considerably from service to service, so if price is a problem for you, make sure to check around.

To be able to verbally talk to your conference participants, you have two options, based on the online meeting company you’ve selected. Participants can either dial directly into a telephone conference number or get in touch via the internet. If they are dialing in, they’ll need to pay toll charges, or you will be paying per-minute charges if you opt to use a toll-free number. Connecting through the web will either be free or suprisingly low cost.

If you would like to enable video, you need to have a "web cam" that connects to your personal computer. Fortunately, they are relatively inexpensive, running less than $50 you’re your neighborhood computer or technology retailer.

You may never know the power and value of something until you check it out. Since most web conferencing services provide a free trial, there is no excuse not to test drive it out by conducting a web conference with a couple of of your employees. Then, once you’re acquainted with it, consider using it for real. And next time you see declining a gathering half way cross town or half way across the world due to a tight schedule or budget, don’t: You will have another option.