The economy, the war, and SARS are all feeding demand for e-conferencing services. Since the war in Iraq started, several of Atlanta-based Premiere Conferencing's investment clients have started updating clients via conference calls daily instead of weekly. Premiere saw a 10 to 15 percent increase in corporate use of Web- and audio-conferencing minutes once war seemed likely. Still, it isn’t like the stampede that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001. "If you go back to those days, I think we were all awestruck," says Randy Salisbury, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Premiere Conferencing. "There was a sea change in the way you viewed how you do business."

Bank of America just expanded its license with Pixion, a Pleasanton, Calif., Web conferencing vendor, to accommodate 850 concurrent connections, up from 500. The banking company conducts internal meetings and communications with Pixion’s technical help.

In the medical field, on-demand e-conferences are growing in popularity. "We’ve seen a huge increase all over for e-CME to extend live meetings," says Simone Karp, executive vice president of business development for CECity, a Pittsburgh-based technology partner for healthcare companies. "There’s still a huge role for live symposia, but to increase the access and distribution of that information, we are seeing a large interest in capturing that information, repurposing and ‘webifying’ it, and offering it on demand."

For those unfamiliar with e-conferencing, one expert advises doing a little advance homework. "The main thing is they need to start thinking about it now, because it’s a complicated industry to learn," says Stephanie Downs, founder of ConferZone (www.conferzone.com), a Web site for anyone interested in learning more about e-conferencing. Here are her suggestions:

  • Participate in a virtual meeting to get a sense for how it works. Many vendors provide demos or allow potential clients to sit in on actual session.
  • Start small. Many meeting planners shy away from e-conferencing out of fear that it will make their jobs obsolete, but "they cannot ignore this," Downs says. Many companies are using a combination of live and virtual meetings, which is a good way to ease into e-conferencing.
  • Line up a supplier, but choose carefully. "I was producing an event for a client and the company went bankrupt a week before the event," says Downs, once a meeting planner herself. "It would be like a hotel burning down." Ask questions about the firm’s client base, how long it has been in business, whether it’s profitable.
  • Downs’ Web site includes resources such as a glossary, vendor directory, a newsletter, white papers, and how-to documents designed to walk novices through the process of setting up an e-conference.