Until recently, many event organizers might have not sought out tools for online conferences because the necessity was few and far between. Previously used mostly by group and meeting facilitators to share information or instruct and build community, online conference software is now being considered as a primary method of delivery for what were to be in-person events.
On the heels of wide-sweeping cancellations and postponements as a result of the new coronavirus outbreak, conference organizers are scrambling to figure out their next steps. One solution has organizers opting for live streams in lieu of in-person events. Google Cloud Next 2020 conference, initially scheduled for early April, will instead now be live-streamed.
During uncertain times, having a back-up plan for an event or conference is becoming increasingly more important. The money, time and energy that goes into organizing an event is too great to leave it all up to chance. To follow are some of the best tools for online conferences to help you execute your event with ease.
Best Tools For Online Conferences
Quality web-based presentation software is one of the most important tools for the best online conference experience. They should be easy to use with features that provide value to both presenters and attendees. There are several online software companies to choose from, each with their own specific advantages.
Shindig offers online video chat capabilities that allow users to create video conferences, conduct interviews, or facilitate online events. It has added functionality that also allows attendees to create their own breakout sessions alongside the main event.
Similarly, Crowdcast is a live video platform designed for online classes and webinars. It offers chat functionality, screen share and question, and answer capabilities. We’ll be sharing about Crowdcast in more detail later.
Zoom is one of the most popular options for online meetings and panels. It offers conference call capabilities, webinars, conferences and allows for screen sharing and annotations.
Software provider, LogMeIn offers three variations of their online conference platforms. This allows users to choose the best online conference platform for their needs. GoToWebinar, GoToMeeting and GoToTraining are tailored to specific audiences and provide various outcomes and functionality depending on end-user needs.
The responsibility falls on conference organizers to know and understand what their community needs. Determining the best fit means knowing what budget constraints you’ll need to work within as well as the communities ability to easily access and engage with the software.
Small-Group Conference Tools
For smaller groups, capabilities for thousands of participants is unnecessary. In this case, it makes sense to choose the best online conference tools designed specifically for smaller groups.
Webex provides services for up to 25 people making it the ideal choice for intimate online meetings. Six users can share screens simultaneously and the software allows for group collaboration with notes, whiteboards, and annotations.
Another resource that works best for online group collaborations and conferences is the cloud platform, Huddle. It allows users to share files and documents to manage projects. Similar to Google Docs, it saves prior versions of the document should they be needed. Another unique feature of Huddle is the API capabilities that allow users to build their own apps within the platform. This could be a valuable tool for conference organizers looking to expand their online community via online applications.
Online Course Software Options
Training conferences have gained popularity in recent years. These conferences allow a wide variety of professionals to gather, network and learn about new offerings, features, and updates to the software and products they use. For the blogging industry in the current health climate, this could mean a turn to more online offerings.
Online course platforms like Thinkific, Teachable, and Ruzuku provide virtual courses. Utilizing video, photos, slides, audio and documents they easily instruct and teach a large group of people at one time. Online conferences going forward could incorporate a blend of an online course and live stream to create both a hands-on and take-away piece.
Web Conferencing Advantages and Disadvantages
One of the main advantages of an online conference is accessibility in situations like the current COVID-19 outbreak. But there are other reasons web conferencing may be a good option. It can have a clear advantage over an in-person conference in that it can increase attendance. The cost of travel and accommodations can be a deciding factor for attendees and attending an online conference alleviates this barrier.
Another advantage of an online conference for organizers is that it may open the pool of speakers and facilitators. Speakers that may have otherwise declined an invitation to get up in front of a large group may feel more comfortable pre-recording their segment. They could then make themselves available after the presentation for a live Q & A session.
This is not to say that an online conference is the best option for all industries. Web conferencing does have some disadvantages. Expositions and exhibit halls can be a significant part of a conference. Networking with brands and public relations representatives is an important piece of the puzzle. This experience can be replicated to a certain extent in the online space, but getting products into end-users hands is a challenge. That need for face-to-face connection goes unmet.
The Future of the Online Conference
The last few weeks have brought upon significant changes to the business world. Industries are quickly learning to adapt as they go. We’ll likely see the emergence of new web conferencing software companies with advanced features and capabilities come to the market.
As more and more employers recognize the productivity and the value of working from home, conferences organizers will continue to seek out alternate ways of building community. Online conference back-up plans will likely be the rule vs. the exception to in-person events in the future.