"Don't buy equipment you'll never be able to use," says Thomas Sullivan, president, Rockpointe Broadcasting (www.rockpointe.com), a Washington, D.C.-based production company specializing in health care education. In the wake of 9/11, Sullivan says some organizations rushed out and purchased expensive videoconferencing systems to replace face-to-face meetings. Instead, Sullivan advises, "Don't spend money unless you are sure the equipment will benefit you and meet your purpose."

To illustrate his point, Sullivan points out that desktop videoconferencing systems require high speed bandwidth. Most organizations have one to five T1 lines running to their facilities. Four people calling uses up a T1 line. Do the math: A videoconference using three T1 lines can shut down a whole organization.

Sullivan is helping companies and associations evaluate their meetings strategies and examine options for alternative methods of delivery.

Boring Board Meetings?
Not all face-to-face meetings can be effectively replaced with technology. But board meetings, says Sullivan, are a good example of conferences that can be replaced by an old-fashioned, low-tech, low-cost method: teleconferences. The facilitator can email slides to attendees, who then print them out for reference during the conference call. The teleconference option is appropriate for small groups of 10 to 12 people, Sullivan says.

"It sounds boring, but it does the trick for a board meeting," he says. "There's no sense spending money for travel. Organizations sometimes go overboard, and fly people in a whim. Do only meetings that are necessary."

Satisfying Travel-shy Speakers
If your speakers are leery of air travel, you can arrange a satellite broadcast from a local studio, which can be delivered to multiple sites, for example 40 to 50 hotels. That way attendees and speakers only have to use ground travel.

"Offer people alternatives as much as possible," says Sullivan. "You don't have to ruin people's lives.

For dinner meetings, you can create a CDROM of a speaker's' presentation and give it as a gift during the dinner, rather than flying in the speaker. You can augment the event by bringing the speaker in via conference call for a Q&A.

"The key is to that different events require different media," says Sullivan. "Not everything has to be done live with speakers."

Web Meetings—What Works
If you do decide to do Web meetings, here is some advice from Simone Karp, vice president, sales and marketing, CECity.com, a Pittsiburgh, Pa.-based applications service provider for health care organizations.

Webconferencing works best for interactive programs with fewer than 100 attendees. It allows a presenter to walk through PowerPoint presentations online, mark up slides and speak to the audience. There is no video transmissions, but participants Virtual attendees network in chatrooms, ask presenters questions, a and participate in online poling, modeled after the audience response systems used at many live meetings. Attendees can access the conferences with only a 56k modem. Only presenters need higher pipes, Karp says.

Webcasting is suitable for larger audiences, when content presented in lecture format. Transmission capabilities include audio, PowerPoint presentations, and video. Participants view the program on their computers using media players such as RealPlayer or Windows Media Player. Interaction is more limited than in webconferences; but presenters can conduct surveys and participants can email questions to presenters, and send the Webcast to a friend.