Common in the not too distant past were meetings that were held in conference rooms big and small where people gathered in person to achieve goals and tasks. While that is still common to this day, the rapid expansion of the internet has provided some tools that significantly reduce the need to meet face-to-face at all, or nearly as often. This blog entry will review the ways in which video conferencing and webinars have changed the way we communicate, collaborate, and conduct business. Bringing the article to a close is a brief look at the benefits and challenges of utilizing web-based conference methods over your more traditional in-person conference meetings.
Dialing Back on Videoconferencing & Webinars – A Brief History
Videoconferencing and webinars actually span back more than 60 years. The majority of people think that these types of services didn’t come to be until the internet was a mainstay in most businesses and homes. While that notion does hold some truth, it all began in 1964 when AT&T introduced the Picturephone at the World’s Fair in New York City. This device “gave opportunities for attendees to make a video call to someone distant. A caller could not only hear the voice on the other side of the line, but also could see his/her picture” (ezTalks.com, 2017).
Now, fast forward another 40 years or so; both technologies have slowly developed with IBM and Macintosh releasing variant software titles for computers that apply these older technologies. It wouldn’t be until the mid-2000’s that the videoconferencing and webinars we depend on today for meetings day in and day out would quickly grow and mature into the ones we know today.
With New Technologies Comes Confusion
Something else has also sprung up in recent years that deserves to be part of the historical timeline here; terminology. The verbiage for a process, nomenclature, etc. There is certainly no exception with that here. Videoconferencing and webinars tend to go hand-in-hand when meetings or conversations are conducted through electronic means via audio and/or video. The critical difference is that video conferencing usually involves two-way communications, whereas a webinar is one-sided. During a webinar, the facilitator guides participants towards a specific goal (Santos, 2017).
Purpose and Needs Analysis of Webinars
Before diving head-first into the types of technologies that can be used for webinars, let’s get a better handle on what they really are. Webinars tend to focus more on a learning experience and less on a meeting or gathering of minds and persons (Lakeman, 2013). These types of events are controlled by a facilitator, who has the authorization and the ability to present both video and audio to those in attendance. In a stronger analogy, think of a lecture hall at one’s local college of university; the professor is down ‘in-front’ and has the audience in front of them. It is fairly common that the lecture revolves around a specific topic, and the end goal is for the participants to have something to takeaway from the lecture. These sessions can be interactive, where the facilitator opens the floor for questions prior to concluding the meeting. Said meetings and sessions can be recorded at the discretion of the facilitator (and as a quick lead-in, are often a capability of videoconferencing and webinar programs).
Webinar Technologies to Achieve Participant Satisfaction
Once the lights and camera are set in the studio of one’s choice, it is time to choose a platform to engage others in learning. There are dozens of different webinar platforms out in the marketplace that range anywhere from no cost to more than $50 a month and above. However, there are specific variables that need to be considered prior to choosing your platform, as they all have specific limitations. These include:
While this list is only scratching the surface, one needs to take time to determine which platform(s) work best for all those concerned. When conducting research on this topic, one website stood out. The website had over 150 online videoconferencing and webinar platforms available for comparative analyses. Based on their data, the most popular tools, according to their research, were GoToMeeting, Zoom Video Conferencing, WebEx (a Cisco product), Skype for Business, and Google Hangouts rounding out the top five (5). Other authors have similar points of view with their top choices, along with some honorable mentions including Join.Me, Sqwiggle, and Lifesize. Most of the services mentioned in their directory that are on a subscription-based or paid-user plan include free trials, so one should explore at least two (2) or more options to find the one that fits best with their unique needs and requirements. (Capterra.com, 2018; Gerber, 2018; Pappas, 2013). However, the audience receiving the webinar will make the difference in terms of which platforms make the cut.
General Benefits and Drawbacks of Using These Technologies
Overall, videoconferencing and webinar tools are very powerful compared to what they were 10, 15, or even 20 years ago. Many strides have been made to get to the level of video quality and user-experience that users demand. In unison, one of the biggest benefits noticed through research concluded that the ability to communicate easily and more effectively (in time and cost), along with flexibility (ConnectUs, 2018; Jackson, 2018). Other benefits reviewed were the ability to share applications and desktops, which leads to higher productivity levels, more effective employee training, and improved customer service.
However, there are some drawbacks to using these technologies, which may cause the studio to go dark with one flip of a switch. First off, the lack of in-person interaction can be a fairly big distraction for some. There are persons out there who would rather meet in-person and others might want to partake in a digital experience. Secondly, and really a challenge for some, is the cost. Most companies or individuals will be required to have hardware and software that meet specific requirements in order to hold a successful webinar. Additionally, the internet connection is vital on BOTH sides of the webinar. The hardware required to host a successful webinar isn’t just a computer or a laptop. In fact, hardware can include video equipment, lighting, backgrounds, and other types of equipment. A third one, depending on who the communicator is, is security. Most people don’t think of security when it comes to webinar conversations. However, it is an integral part of the solution, especially if sensitive information is being presented. Regardless if it is in a business or a non-business setting, appropriate measures need to be in place in order to protect the data being shared and all participants involved (James, 2018; Soffar, 2018).
Closing Act on Webinars
Looking back, webinars and video conferencing have revolutionized the way businesses and individuals communicate with one another. Since the early 1960’s and up until now, communication through the use of technology has far more benefits than drawbacks as reviewed in research for this article. Though the disadvantages are prohibitable and self-inflicting, it is a fantastic tool that works to foster communication amongst a group regardless of time or location. Webinars apply the use of video conferencing to help others learn, collaborate, and communicate on a specific topic. An even better happy ending of the story is what Integrity MCG can do for you with respect to finding the best tool for your webinar needs. Integrity MCG can help manage and customize your webinars to engage audiences from anywhere. Before setting the stage, give us a shout so we can help you out! After all, all of us here would love to hear: “Lights, Camera, Client Satisfaction!”
Dr. Danielle Jenkins provides insights and tips on how to strategically run your business in the most efficient manner possible.