There's no question about it: Meetings are heading into cyberspace at a furious pace.

Chris Reed, vice president of corporate strategy for Centra Software, Lexington, Mass., has seen a 20 percent increase in customer inquiries about the company's Blended E-Learning Conference. One potential customer told Reed, “Your technology has just gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have.”

Jim Lewendowski, vice president of business and enterprise services at Yahoo! Broadcast (www.business.broadcast.com), based in Dallas, said that several “large, household-name firms” have canceled major meetings and contacted his company (although he declined to name specific clients).

Employees at WebEx (www.webex.com) in San Jose, Calif., have had to cut vacation time to meet the urgent demand of the past couple of months, according to Mark Altenberg, WebEx product manager.

To help you make the leap into e-meetings, we've designed the following directory. Look for our guide to videoconferencing in the January issue.

Webcast or Webconference?

Think of webcasting as a form of TV: a one-way transmission via the Internet. Webcasting can be used for large or small group meetings that require limited interaction, such as a keynote address.

Webconferencing aims at small groups of up to 25 attendees, and provides such interactive bells and whistles as application sharing, Web touring, and whiteboard annotation.

For both services, customers don't need to purchase or install software (other than a client program) on their computers. Planners and audience participants use software on servers that are maintained by the provider and pay only for those services used. Different providers charge differently: by the number of people who use the client software, per minute, or per person.

Remember this: Webcast for robust video but limited interaction; webconference for robust interactivity but limited video.
Kevin McDermott

Getting Started

Before an event, it's important to consider your communications and marketing objectives. What experience do you want to create for the Web user? Full video of a speaker with live integration of speaker support? Or would an audio webcast with speaker support achieve your goals?

If you are webcasting a live event, consider launching a pre-event version of the Web site, with a demo webcast, at least one week before the event. Your Web audience should use it to make sure their computer and network configuration are set up correctly. Ask them to pre-register so that you can get an indication of the number of live streams.

A few other tips:

  • Polish your audio — If it's bad, users won't stick around. Get a good mix and sound level before showtime. If there are questions from the audience, secure a hand-held microphone or ask the speaker to repeat questions for Web users.

  • Check your lighting — Good high-contrast lighting makes a webcast image clearer. Presenters should be lighted from the back, side, and front.

  • Add some stage directions — A few minutes of preparation with your presenter will make a big difference. Is he or she a hugger (a person who hugs the podium) or a walker (one who roams the stage)? For a walker, place marks on the stage floor as to where they can go and still be in camera range. Adjust the lights and use a hand-held microphone.
    Mary Ann Pierce



The Major Players

Webcasting

  • www.business.broadcast.com — Yahoo Broadcast can deliver end-to-end production services, including show direction, rehearsal, moderating, and back-end reporting.

  • www.eloquent.com — Eloquent specializes in product launches to worldwide audiences.



Webconferencing

  • www.placeware.com — Two products: Meeting Places, designed for smaller collaborative meetings; and Auditorium Places, designed for large conferences and events with up to 2,500 participants. A Try It Now service lets you give it a whirl at no cost.

  • www.raindance.com — Raindance Web and Phone Conferencing offers on-demand, reservationless phone conferencing with Web controls; Raindance Web Conferencing Pro (formerly Collaboration) is an advanced webconferencing service with integrated phone controls that lets you share desktop applications, display slides, tour the Web, and get audience feedback through instant chat, polling, and Q&A sessions.

  • www.webex.com — WebEx's services let you share presentations, documents, applications, voice, and video spontaneously with anyone, on Windows and Macintosh systems. No setup is required, no uploads are necessary, and no conversions are needed. The content comes straight from the presenter's desktop to recipients.






Kevin McDermott is founder and managing director of Major Scale Technology Management, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in e-business strategy for commercial businesses and nonprofit associations. Contact him at (708) 763-8970 or at kevinmcd@majorscale.com. Mary Ann Pierce is president of Events Digital Corp (www.eventsdigital.com), New York. Events Digital provides on-site Internet access and Internet solutions: webcasting, Internet kiosks, networked presentations and event-specific Web sites.