Web conferencing programs come with a tremendous variety of features and capabilities. Some can merge with a company's existing e-mail, calendar, messaging and office productivity applications. Some allow attendees to view the presentation in their regular web browser without installing any additional software.
Depending on the software, people can:
- View slide presentations from programs like PowerPoint
- Draw or write on a common whiteboard by using their computer mice or typing
- Annotate images and diagrams using the same whiteboard principle
- Transmit still pictures or video to other attendees via a webcam (This increases the required bandwidth and can sometimes slow the transfer of the presentation.)
- View information from the moderator's computer desktop using screen sharing
- Share documents, often even if attendees don't have the software that created them, using application sharing
- Hold interactive question-and-answer sessions that integrate video and audio
- Send public or private messages through instant messaging
- Annotate or modify documents and spreadsheets from compatible applications
- Transfer files between attendees
- Ask and answer questions through audio chat (as an integrated part of the software) or by phone
Since these meetings take place over the Internet, programs include options for security and encryption. Most programs require moderators and attendees to use a login name and password to access the meeting. Some use SSL or TLS encryption to protect data. Some companies also host web conferences on internal servers so that the data stays behind the corporate firewall. The moderator or host can monitor who is participating in the conference through sign-in logs and roll calls.
A Typical Online Meeting
Web conferences can vary dramatically depending on software, hosting and how the moderator runs the meeting. Here are the basic steps used with many meeting programs:
- The moderator gathers content for the meeting, including spreadsheets, documents and presentations from other applications.
- The moderator sets a time and date for the meeting and uses the meeting software to invite attendees via e-mail.
- The attendees accept the invitation, and their calendar programs add the meeting to their calendars.
- The meeting moderator opens the conferencing software before the meeting is scheduled to start and makes sure the connections and content are working properly.
- When the meeting time arrives, the attendees click on the URL in their invitation email to go to the meeting.
- The visual portion of the meeting takes place in the meeting software or in a web browser.
- The moderator and participants communicate by phone, voice chat or instant messenger during the meeting.
- At the end of the meeting, the moderator and attendees close their programs or browser windows and sign off.
For more information about telework, teleconferencing and related topics, check out the links on the next page.