Sometimes, reaching an audience through videoconferencing involves more than simply enabling multiple sites to see and hear the same message at the same time. You have to "engage" the entire audience, which can be difficult when it's in several locations across multiple time zones. Fortunately, the same engagement tools you use to host single-site meetings also work effectively for multisite events.

Event Web Site. An event Web site is a must, not just to support promotion and registration. Pre-event discussion boards can help identify an interested audience member, and posted comments give clues about the types of questions or issues that might come up during the event. A discussion board also provides a forum for geographically dispersed colleagues to build relationships and collaborate on planned event topics. Consider streaming the live event and offering it on demand after the videoconference is complete. You will find that people appreciate having the flexibility of watching the event at their convenience.

Question and Answer Sessions (Q&A). Questions asked by participants can tell a lot about how the event is going, overall and from an individual site perspective. Are the participants understanding and retaining the information throughout the show? What issues do participants feel most strongly about? What format changes should be considered for the next event? You can support Q&A sessions during a videoconference in several ways. Participants can fax or e-mail their questions to the origination site for a moderator to read on the air, or audience members can call the studio to ask their question live. A higher-end solution is to send a live video feed of people asking questions, along with their names and titles. After the event, you can post the questions on the event Web site for participants to review and, if they like, make additional comments.

Audience Polling. Audience polling with interactive keypads is a proven tool for collecting individual responses and instantly displaying combined results for all locations. They usually are used to track understanding, retention, and preferences throughout a program as well as to promote discussion. Increasingly, companies are including interactive keypads for their entertainment value. Keypads can be used to simulate popular game shows or sporting events, allowing multiple sites to compete against each other in a fun, challenging way. The end result is always a fully engaged audience.

Two-Way Video. You can further engage multiple sites by using two-way video. The effect of colleagues being able to see and hear each other while in separate locations is quite appealing--a face with a name has greater impact than a voice over a loudspeaker. Any number of sites can be set up to offer face-to-face communications using two-way video.

Local Breakout Sessions. A multisite videoconference can easily support breakout sessions. Just pause the videoconference while individual site moderators run scheduled local sessions. Then resume the videoconference and let the individual sites report their results to the entire audience. Any written materials generated during the breakout sessions can be forwarded to a single source after the event.

Surveys. The participant survey is one of the most critical outcomes of any meeting. Site moderators can collect individual paper surveys and ship them overnight to a predetermined contact for review and compilation. If you plan to offer a telephone survey, make sure that the access number is available to all participating locations. You also may need to provide written dialing instructions to certain locations for international videoconferencing events.