Thinking of running an online meeting, but don’t know where to start?
There are many meeting platforms to choose from and just as many camera and microphone options, too. How do you decide?
There are free options, but these all have limitations.
Free Online Meeting Solutions
Google Hangouts is totally free, but video quality is not good, and there are significant lags. There are two types of meeting; Hangouts and Hangouts on Air.
Hangouts are more suitable to impromptu meetings between one or two people. Hangouts on Air require you to have and to use your YouTube channel. You are limited to 25 participants, and the Hangout display is limited to the most active 10 video feeds. Hangout on Air recordings can be edited in your YouTube account.
Blab is another free platform that is great for small meetings.
Screenshot – source
Blab’s marketing focuses on casual meetings, but many businesses use it for more formal business meetings. The screen is split into four video feeds, with other attendees able to comment in the text sidebar. You can record your Blab session, and even pause the recording if you need to take a bathroom break.
Skype has a free meeting option that allows up to 10 attendees.
Screenshot – source
This Skype service is still rolling out and is not yet available in many areas. Skype video is generally excellent, but there is no recording or instant messaging facility with the free option.
Skype’s paid options offer much more usability but are expensive with a per-user subscription tied into a Microsoft Office 365 subscription.
Paid Online Meeting Solutions
Most online meetings and webinars are held using specialist paid platforms because these give a more professional experience than the free solutions above.
If you have an Office 365 subscription, then you could consider a paid Skype add-on for some of your users.
A more flexible solution is to look at a few platforms that are dedicated to online meetings and webinars.
There are too many webinar platforms to go into here, but Clickmeeting is one platform that will suit the needs of many small businesses for meetings of up to 25 people. The same company has another product, ClickWebinar for online meetings that have 26 – 1,000 attendees, so nobody needs to learn a new interface if meetings grow beyond 25 attendees.
Screenshot – source
ClickMeeting allows you to record, share screens and have multiple presenters. Meeting rooms can also be branded with your company logo, which is essential if you are using ClickMeeting to talk with clients.
There are four options you need to consider:
- Internet connection
In an ideal world, you need an optical fiber to the building connection. Anything less than that means a degrading of the online meeting experience. Some compromise is possible, as long as you have a fast and unlimited Internet connection.
Satellite broadband works up to a point, but latency issues mean there will often be time lags, and heavy rain or snow will disrupt the signal. If you are stuck with a cellular connection, forget the whole idea and find somewhere that has a fixed line broadband connection.
You can use your laptop’s built-in microphone, but everyone at the meeting will be hit with a squeal of feedback. Not a good idea.
At the very least you need a combined headphones & microphone set. This review on Lifehacker lists some excellent combination headphone/mics ranging from $50 to $300.
If you don’t want to look like a Martian in your bulky headset, then you need a separate microphone. This review article on SearchEngineJournal will give you the information you need to make a good choice and covers mics ranging from $49 to $329. The more expensive dynamic microphones will pick up a lot of background noise, so are best used in a studio-type setting. If you have a fridge in your office that comes on and off at random intervals, then buy a cheaper condenser microphone to avoid excessive clicks and rumbles.
You could use the built-in camera on your laptop, but the results will be disappointing. You can go to Amazon.com and take your pick from ten 4.5 star webcams that all cost less than $60.
You should experiment with the lighting until both your face and the background are well-lit and clear. Avoid being silhouetted against a window and get enough light on your face, but not so much that you look like a ghost. Experiment with your chosen platform before the date of the meeting and buy extra lighting if you need to.
Putting it All Together
You only get one chance to make a great first impression, so it’s worth spending a few dollars on getting the basics right. Free and built-in options are fine as long as you are only talking to family, but for an online business meeting you really do need to go pro. Investing in the right microphone, headphones, webcam and online meeting platform will pay dividends in terms of your reputation and more leads.
And, finally, remember that the camera will emphasize any nervous habits that you have. Get hold of yourself and control your nerves and your online meeting will succeed.
Over to You
What do you use to conduct online meetings? Please share your successes and bloopers in the comment box below.
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