There are many intriguing technology alternatives for the firm thinking of starting to offer either in-house, web-based seminars and meetings or making broadcasts available externally to clients or potential clients.
An easy way to start is with what you've already got. Microsoft Windows 95 through XP come bundled with Microsoft NetMeeting, a program that allows both audio and video conferencing. If you're broadcasting to an Intranet network, that's the simplest to use because you can chat within your own network behind your firewall with zero additional software or hardware. Microsoft NetMeeting gives you voice, video, whiteboard, text, and desktop sharing. NetMeeting is no longer packaged with the new Microsoft Vista, but the NetMeeting can be installed and run with Vista.
If you're interesting in using a program that reaches outside the company firewall, one option is GotoMeeting. GoToMeeting is a Web-hosted service created and marketed by Citrix Online, a division of Citrix Systems. It is remote meeting and desktop sharing software, which means that it enables the user to meet with other computer users via the Internet.
But don't stop at these options. A simple search online for "Conferencing Tools" will lead you to more options than you can imagine. Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, and proprietor of the popular web site, TaxMama.com, presents both free and fee-based webinars to the public and she uses online webinar tools to teach an Enrolled Agent exam online review class.
Rosenberg suggests starting with a questionnaire to determine what you're looking for in broadcast services, and then find the service or program that suits your needs. Here are some of the questions she suggests you ask yourself:
- How many people will be attending? What is the average number of people attending, and what is the highest number of people attending?
- Do they all want access by computer?
- Will they want telephone access?
- Are they computer literate, or do they need handholding (you might need to provide technical assistance to help people with the broadcast). Do they need live assistance, live on-hand assistance from the company during the conference?
- Do they need toll-free lines?
- Do they need to be able to see things online or is just plain teleconferencing okay?
- Do they need to record it, and is it enough to record just audio or do they need to record the visual?
- Do they need video, or is just presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint and a white board enough?
- How much money is in the budget?
- Do they need more than one moderator besides a speaker, somebody else controlling things, a behind-the-scenes person?
Joe Gornick, senior manager of audio seminars and new business opportunities at CCH manages weekly audio presentations for his company. The audio programs are typically two-hours in length. "Firms or corporations register, they pay one flat fee per program, and they can have an unlimited number of people in their office listen in," explained Gornick.
"It's interactive in that we build in breaks at three points in the program for the listeners to ask their questions," he said. "Practitioners are so busy; this format allows you to optimize your time. You don't have to travel to a downtown hotel, sit in a meeting, travel time there and back. It's very convenient."
Gornick added that many firms tell him that they remain in the conference room after the session to talk amongst themselves about what they just learned and how that applies to their clients. "I think that's a real benefit of the model that we're running with," he said.