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Online meetings and webinars - benefits, tools and conferencing software review

A few years ago, most online meeting, conferencing collaboration and webinar tools were horribly expensive, complex and given bandwidth limitations, were more frustrating than useful - but a recent online meeting I attended certainly indicated all that's changed.

The risks of "blind" meetings and conferences

One of the disadvantages I've found working in an online environment, especially when collaborating with others, are the limitations of email, phone and IM in getting a point across, demonstrating a concept or explaining complex issues. Back when I was in the bricks and mortar corporate world, whiteboards were a great way to record and highlight points for discussion and the use of overhead and other projection equipment allowed for delivering effective presentations.

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For example, when training employees in computer use, I could have them working along with me and easily see what they were doing in the process. Phone, email and IM training leaves you somewhat blind - important points can be missed and attendees can easily skip over crucial aspects. It's been my experience that people will tend to not speak up and say "I don't understand", but just fumble along; feigning comprehension. That translates into ineffective conferences, training or poor sales conversions.

Whether it's training or sales - it's so important that people understand what you're relaying to them; and for you to have feedback mechanisms that provide you indicators that they are following along with you. 

You can take a lot of the guesswork and frustration of long distance collaboration and presentations using online meeting and webinar software and services -  it's a lot cheaper and easier than you may think.

Webinar vs. online meeting

In case you're not familiar with the term "webinar", it's an abbreviation for "Web seminar," an online conference for delivering presentations between specified presenters and a large remote audience via the web. It's a great way to promote new products or to explain existing products to current clients. An educated client is a client you keep :).

With webinars, the basic concept is the same as an online meeting, there's just some minor differences in the features of the software or service used.

Key benefits

  • Increased productivity through more efficient conference and collaboration capabilities

  • Reduces travel costs

  • Increases conversions with advanced interaction with clients and potential clients

  • Allows for organizations to tap in to a greater pool of partners and consultants, regardless of where they are located.

  • Improve return on investments in marketing, training and general internal/external communications.


  • Pre-sales marketing: great for showcasing products with live demonstrations either through pre-arranged webinars to scores of people; small groups or impromptu one-on-one sales calls.

  • Training: Effective, economical online training for  customers and staff, wherever their location

  • Collaboration: A huge, huge benefit in my opinion - the most effective way of collaborating with your team, partners and contractors. Has the potential to great reduce project rollout time and avoid costly project development mistakes.

How do webinar and online meeting services work?

Gone are the days of lengthy downloads of software, messing around with configuration, dropped conference connections and screen refreshes that threaten to bring on a seizure. Good webinar and online meeting software is very quick easy to install and there's next to no configuration  required. In the review I ran, from the time I signed up for the GoToMeeting service, to the time I was ready to hold my first meeting - approximately 2 minutes.

There's hardly any learning curve with modern meeting and webinar services which is not only important for presenters, but it's a crucial aspect for attendees. You want attendees and participants to be focused on the meeting or presentation, not spending most of their time trying to figure out how the darned conferenceing software works!

Basically, it works like this:

  • Create a meeting with a few clicks, schedule immediate meetings/webinars or set them for a later date.

  • The software provides you with features to invite others

  • Attendees receive invitations

  • They log in via a special link and/or phone number

  • If a web presentation is involved, a small plugin is downloaded to the attendees' machine

  • Done! you're ready to hold your meeting

Features of webinar and online meeting software

While it varies from vendor to vendor; you'll usually find the following tools:

  • Phone, chat and on screen connectivity options - i.e, you can be speaking with attendees while demonstrating a concept on screen.

  • Direct communications with specific participants, either public or privately. Participants can also chat with each other privately.

  • Active windows and privacy features. You can select that only specific applications you are working with are displayed to participants instead of your entire screen

  • Drawing tools - highlight points on-screen in real time, draw on screen (even over text documents), operate applications in real time and the attendees can watch the process.

  • Pausing features - leaves the frame of the last step of application usage on attendees screen while you are working in other areas of the application in preparation for the next segment

  • Move between application displays with a single click

  • Collaborative input - specify that other participants can highlight, draw or use applications being displayed.

It really is fascinating stuff and highly useful.

Online meeting and webinar tools

As mentioned, it was a recent online meeting that re-sparked my interest in these sorts of services. The company providing the tools was Citrix; they offer a few excellent meeting, collaboration webinar options - all with free, no obligation 30 day trials. 

Aside from offering a powerful range of easy to use features and a highly secure environment for meetings and webinars; Citrix doesn't charge on a per conference basis - you pay a monthly or annual fee (which is *much* cheaper than many of their competitors) and you're able to hold as many meetings or webinars as you like!  Citrix also offer 24/7 free phone and email support should you require assistance, plus an extensive online knowledge base.

Their range of services:

GoToMeeting standard - Host unlimited online meetings for up to 10 attendees. Try a free 30 day trial!

GoToWebinar - Host unlimited online conferences for up to 10 attendees and deliver unlimited Webinars for up to 1,000 attendees at a time. Free trial available!

GoToMeeting Corporate - Host online meetings for up to 25 attendees and webinars for up to a thousand participants. Extensive reporting features to track Webinar, meeting and usage statistics; plus a range of other high-end tools.

For most small online businesses, GoToWebinar is the perfect choice if you wish to run both online meetings for small groups and webinars to large groups. If you'll only be running webinars for small groups or one-on-one, then GoToMeeting is probably the best online conferencing solution for you.

As mentioned, Citrix offers a 30 day free trial of all their GoTo services, so review all three to see what suits you best!

Related articles

Live chat software - benefits and review

Instant messaging and live chat etiquette tips

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources

In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

Copyright information.... This article is not available for reproduction without explicit written permission from Michael Bloch and Taming the Beast.net


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