Shared office space. Check. Internet-enabled mobile devices. Check. Portable Wi-fi. Check. Web-based tools. Well, hold on.
You see, there are too many web-based and mobile tools on the market today. Choosing the essential ones is a real challenge. Even for a particular need, the choices are abundant.
In this article, I would like to share with you some tips on choosing the right conferencing tool for you and your business.
First-off: Why do you need online conferencing tools?
For my business needs, email software is ideal – until I need to do dozens of unnecessary emails and replies just to talk about something which only needed 5 minutes of my time. Indeed, for certain conversations, emailing back and forth is tiresome and time-consuming.
When you need to gather and talk with your geographically-dispersed team members in a meeting, train a group of people or show the prospective client your project demo in real time, online conferencing solutions can offer you just that.
Typically, there are three types of online conferencing solutions: Audio, video and web. While all three can be done via the Internet, each has a set of advantages over the others.
Audio conference is great when all you need is voice calls; this is typically bundled as a solution with web conference.
Web conference is great when you are collaborating with your team members, prospects or clients – i.e. showing how things work in the demo, webinars, online training, etc. – which don’t require you to see the participants’ facial expression and body language.
Video conference is, to me, the high-end of web conference. You can see people in real-time. It is indeed a good way to do meetings if your Internet is considerably fast. One caveat: You can’t do business meeting in your pajamas :)
Which online conferencing tools to use?
There are many online conferencing tools available today. This is great, but many choices means choosing the one which is well-suited your business needs is a real challenge. Here are my recommended tools:
Skype is a major player in the VoIP arena, offering audio/video conferencing capabilities. It allows you to make Internet calls with decent quality. It also lets you conduct video conferencing with up to 10 participants. Web conferencing is not Skype’s forte, but it can be done – with some limitations.
The main upside of Skype is its community of users from which we can learn a thing or two about using Skype more effectively and the integration with different devices, such as Xbox One.
I am using Skype mainly for its chat feature. I’ve also done video conferencing with Skype. Quality is not an issue when you are doing one-on-one conversation; unfortunately, it’s quite an issue when I need to teleconference with 5 other people.
Google Hangouts on Air
Google+ Hangouts disrupts the online conferencing arena. It’s a good video conferencing solution, which allows you to share your hangout to anyone you want. It’s also mobile device-friendly.
The biggest upside of Google Hangout is its connectivity with other Google products like YouTube and Google Voice, making it an all-in-one online conferencing tool.
Hangouts on Air is free, but it has its limitations: You need to have a Google+ account, and the video conferencing participants are limited to 10 for personal accounts and 15 to business accounts.
I mainly use Google Hangouts for educational purposes: I like to join Hangouts arranged by business coaches and leaders to learn about business. I also regularly watch recorded Hangouts, which I believe is a great feature.
ReadyTalk is a business-oriented online conferencing solution enabling you to start meetings quickly – either via your desktop or tablet. In my opinion, it offers the taste of both Skype and Google Hangout: It lets you launch and/or attend meetings faster from your favorite applications – Google Calendar, Microsoft Lync and Scheduler for Outlook – and also ReadyTalk’s own apps. It also offers a range of online conferencing capabilities like Skype: Audio, video and web.
Audio quality is among the best compared to its peers. But perhaps the biggest upside of ReadyTalk is its video conferencing capabilities. You can have up to 25 participants plus 4 simultaneous video feeds, making it a powerful collaboration tool.
For more recommended web-based conferencing tools, please read this PCWorld article.
Being location independent, I need full support, online. If they are unreachable or slow to response, I will surely go to another provider.
The most important factor for me in choosing online services is their around-the-clock customer support. This also holds true with online conferencing tools. To me, features are great, but without stellar 24/7 customer support, they are not much of a help, especially when I’m on the other side of the world. Currently, my time zone is GMT+7 and I often deal with people from GMT-5 time zone – 12 hour difference is a challenge when you need to teleconference!
As always, be sure you read reviews (genuine ones, that is) and seek for recommendations from people you trust. Also, make sure you make use of the free trial offers often provided by the service providers.
So – over to you: Are you currently using any online conferencing tools? If so, please share your tools and let us know what you think about them.