E-CONFERENCING SPIKED just before and after U.S. troops invaded Iraq, but it isn't like the stampede that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001, says Randy Salisbury, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Atlanta-based Premiere Conferencing, an e-conference provider.

Nevertheless, the troublesome economy, the war in Iraq, and SARS have all fed demand for e-conferencing services in recent months. (See the news item beginning on page 15 called “BTC Tracks Disease's Impact,” for more information on how SARS is affecting e-conferences.)

Premiere saw a 10- to 15-percent spike in corporate use of Web and audio conferencing when the war with Iraq began. Bank of America recently 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.

As more insurance and financial services companies explore e-meeting alternatives, it's important for meeting planners to do a little homework, “because it's a complicated industry to learn,” says Stephanie Downs, founder of ConferZone, a Web site about e-conferencing. Here are her suggestions:

  • Participate in a virtual meeting to get a sense of how it works. Many vendors provide demos or allow potential clients to sit in on an 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 an e-conference supplier carefully. Ask questions about the firm's client base, how long it has been in business, and whether it's profitable.

Downs' Web site (www.conferzone.com) 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.

Visit our Web site for up-to-the-minute reports on how war and SARS could affect your meetings — the latest on cancellation insurance, attrition, security, risk management, contingency planning, and more. http://warimpact.meetingsnet.com