How do web conferencing programs work?

Photo courtesy Save On Conferences

A wide variety of web conferencing programs are available on the market. The simplest use chat and instant messaging programs host text-based group discussions. More sophisticated programs exchange visual information using webcams and streaming video and allow people to share documents online. Some programs are entirely computer- and Internet-based, and others use the telephone system to distribute audio content.

Web conferencing programs combine tools already common to web pages and Internet communication. They bundle these tools into one interface to create an interactive meeting environment. These tools include:


Companies can either purchase conferencing software and host their meetings themselves or use a hosting service. Hosting services provide the software and server space on which to conduct meetings. Either way, the company or the hosting service must have software to coordinate the meeting and ample server space and bandwidth to accommodate it.

Some programs 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.
  • 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.
  • Ask and answer questions through audio chat (as an integrated part of the software) or by phone.

Programs include options for security and encryption. Most 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 host web conferences on internal servers so that the data stays behind the corporate firewall.

Read How Teleconferencing Works for more information.