Web conferencing is used as an umbrella term for various types of online conferencing and collaborative services including webinars (web seminars), webcasts, and web meetings. Sometimes it may be used also in the narrower sense of the peer-level web meeting context, in an attempt to disambiguate it from the other types known as collaborative sessions. The terminology related to these technologies is exact and agreed relying on the standards for web conferencing but specific organizations practices in usage exist to provide also term usage reference.
In general, web conferencing is made possible by Internet technologies, particularly on TCP/IP connections. Services may allow real-time point-to-point communications as well as multicast communications from one sender to many receivers. It offers data streams of text-based messages, voice and video chat to be shared simultaneously, across geographically dispersed locations. Applications for web conferencing include meetings, training events, lectures, or presentations from a web-connected computer to other web-connected computers.
Other typical features of a web conference include:
- Slideshow presentations; where images are presented to the audience and markup tools and a remote mouse pointer are used to engage the audience while the presenter discusses slide content.
- Live or streaming video; where full-motion webcam, digital video camera or multi-media files are pushed to the audience.
- VoIP: Real-time audio communication through the computer via use of headphones and speakers.
- Web tours; where URLs, data from forms, cookies, scripts and session data can be pushed to other participants enabling them to be pushed through web-based logons, clicks, etc. This type of feature works well when demonstrating websites where users themselves can also participate.
- Meeting recording: Where presentation activity is recorded on the client side or server side for later viewing and/or distribution.
- Whiteboard with annotation (allowing the presenter and/or attendees to highlight or mark items on the slide presentation. Or, simply make notes on a blank whiteboard.)
- Text chat: For live question and answer sessions, limited to the people connected to the meeting. Text chat may be public (echoed to all participants) or private (between two participants).
- Polls and surveys (Allow the presenter to conduct questions with multiple choice answers directed to the audience)
- Screen sharing/desktop sharing/application sharing (where participants can view anything the presenter currently has shown on their screen. Some screen sharing applications allow for remote desktop control, allowing participants to manipulate the presenters screen, although this is not widely used.)
Handling online Meetings
Choose the Right Technology
Look at your agenda to choose the most suitable platform to use. The best platform for a quick “check-in” can differ from the right one for brainstorming or decision-making sessions.
Work on Specific Skills
A virtual meeting’s success often depends on the guidance of a facilitator, so it’s important to learn the skills and tools that you’ll need to succeed in this role.
When participants haven’t met before, ice breakers can encourage everyone to relax and get acquainted before discussing business. You could ask attendees to introduce themselves and give some information about what they do; then do an exercise that helps them find out more about one another. Think about and try out ice breakers well before the event to ensure that they’ll have the desired effect.
Spend Time Preparing
Virtual meetings may need more preparation than regular face-to-face ones. For example, how will you deal with conflict in this virtual space, and keep the discussion focused and on track? What if software difficulties prevent your most important team member from attending?
Work some extra planning time into your schedule, so that you can prepare adequately both for the meeting itself and for any technical challenges that may occur.
Next, think about your objective. Who should attend? What exactly do you need to discuss? Decide what you want to cover, and estimate how much time each item will take. Be punctual with your start and finish times; remember, just because your meeting is virtual, that doesn’t mean it’s polite to arrive late or leave early.
For longer meetings, try to organize your information into 10- to 15-minute segments. This accommodates shorter attention spans and helps keep everyone engaged and focused. Make it clear when you have reached the end of each section perhaps by a change of pace in your delivery so that attendees are ready to go onto the next part.
Set Ground Rules
Ground rules are an important part of virtual meetings, because they guide the behavior of everyone attending.
For instance, you might ask participants to log in to the meeting five minutes early, so that everyone can connect and check their audio and video.
Another common ground rule is to ask attendees to mute their lines until they are ready to speak; doing this cut down on distracting background noise.
If the call is audio only, ask everyone to state their names before speaking. This way, people in the group will be able to follow who’s said what.
Communicate With Virtual Reality in Mind
In face-to-face meetings, people pick up important cues from facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. However, these are often lost in virtual meetings, which is why you need to take this into consideration when communicating with participants.
First, strengthen your active listening skills. Put your entire focus on the person who is speaking. Demonstrate that you’ve paid attention by summarizing what he or she says, or by asking a relevant question.
Make sure that you communicate how you feel through your choice of words this is particularly important if you’re not using video. So, if you’re unsure about something, say this and ask for clarification. You might say, “Sarah, I’m really excited that our numbers are so high, but I’m worried about the drop in new clients. How do you feel about this?”