Rob Arnold's Blog

Frustrated with Web Conferences? See these Considerations for Effective Online Meetings

03 May 2013 | by Rob Arnold
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In my job I attend a number of Web conferences each week with different groups of people and using a variety of different conferencing platforms. Quite often valuable time is wasted as the organizer, host or presenter is disorganized or struggles to invoke the appropriate features at the right time. 

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan decision-maker survey, the top reasons for delaying investments in Web conferencing are based upon commonly held perceptions that it is not a user-friendly or useful tool for many knowledge workers.

These misguided perceptions stem from lack of user familiarity with the Web conferencing tool set and user interfaces. At times, Web conferencing may prove ineffective because of the underlying complexity of the technology. However, Web conferencing providers remain steadfastly focused on delivering a user-friendly experience. Technology advancements are helping to improve the user interface and are enabling conference participants to effectively leverage a more comprehensive set of collaboration features. Many conferencing software suites today are designed to service the everyday user, with the most frequently used tools intuitively designed and positioned front and center in the user interface. Still, hosting an online meeting can be intimidating for presenters.

Many hosts and presenters are only familiar with the few Web conferencing features that they consistently employ in their online meetings. Although useful in some regards, this limited approach is not always the most effective. Presenters can add value to their meetings by incorporating a greater variety of features available with their Web conferencing platform. By accessing the tutorials, self-help tools, consulting services, or customer support available from their Web conferencing providers, hosts can learn to incorporate features that best support the objectives of their meetings.

Attached is a check list of best practices that will free presenters from technical obstacles and enable them to effectively host productive and efficient meetings. (I also have a checklist cheat sheet available by request).

I hope this is useful. Happy conferencing! 


Best Practices for Effective Online Meetings

Focus on Objectives, Not on Technology:

  • Technology and features should not be a focal point. Rather, the platform should support the host and the intended message.
  • It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the useful features available with Web conferencing platforms. A helpful approach to remain focused on the intended message is to draft a meeting script prior to any other steps being taken.
  • Once the script is prepared, the host should consider which features and functionalities are most appropriately aligned to support the intended objective and message.

 Apply the Tools that Best Support the Message:

  • Once the intended message has been organized, meeting hosts should consider the specific type of meeting they plan to hold. The appropriateness and effectiveness of collaboration features will vary based on the number and demographics of participants (colleagues, partners, customers, prospects, etc.), as well as the meeting format (interactive, presentation, demonstration, training, etc).
  • Desktop or screen sharing features help audiences to better understand complex information. Screen sharing ensures all participants are literally on the same page and are not individually searching for documents on their desktops. A key benefit of desktop/screen sharing is that the host can pass control to others, which allows advanced features such as co-editing of documents.
  • File sharing enables documents to be uploaded to a Web-based content library or database which is accessible to all participants during and after the meeting. By pre-loading the documents, the presenter has the necessary files readily available for display during the meeting. File sharing eases version management and ensures that a single version is made available to all participants post-meeting. File sharing prevents presenters from displaying their entire desktops to participants, thereby eliminating privacy issues and distractions due to screen savers, pictures, and open applications on a presenter’s desktop.
  • Polling, Q&A, and chat can all be variously employed to engage the audience. Participants can communicate with presenters or with each other via chat. Polling and Q&A can be useful ways to organize attendee feedback and inquiries to be fielded during the meeting or in the context of post-meeting follow-up. All of these features can be turned on/off based on the host’s objectives.
  • Audio controls are available to help the host retain order throughout the meeting. The host can choose to mute all or un-mute specific presenters or audience members when it is appropriate for them to speak.  
  • Integrated desktop videoconferencing is available with many Web conferencing platforms. The host should consider whether this feature will add value to the meeting, and if so, how it should be employed. Videoconferencing can promote a sense of intimacy or convey information through body language, yet viewing fidgeting participants can be a distraction. Meeting organizers may elect to enable video for only the host and other presenters, or for all participants, or for no one at all.
  • Hosts should consider whether they wish to record their meetings to make the material available for future use, either for documentation and compliance, or to make it available to participants who are unable to attend the live event.

 Invite All of the Appropriate Participants:

  • Calendar and e-mail integrations and other scheduling tools should be leveraged during the planning and initiation phases of Web conferences. Calendar invitations synchronized with e-mail make it easy for participants to join.
  • Invitations should include meeting details such as the meeting name and a summary of the discussion topics, time, and audio and online log-on information. E-mail and calendar reminders can be set up to ensure participants join on time.

Make It Easy to Join:

  • Adequate preparation is only part of an effective Web conference. Factors such as content delivery and professional etiquette play key roles as well. A delayed start immediately compromises perceptions of competence and credibility. Many providers offer solutions that expedite the meeting entry process. For example, there are tools that allow participants to join by right-clicking on a link embedded in an e-mail or calendar item.
  • It is recommended that, if possible, multiple audio options are provided for participants–including toll and toll-free, domestic and international audio dial-in options, as well as VoIP. This will enable users to choose the most appropriate method for their environment and may help to encourage attendance.

Be Prepared:

  • Integrated e-mail and calendar tools allow meeting organizers to view the availability of prospective participants and select the most convenient time that will generate the largest degree of participation.
  • Calendar integrations also display which participants have or have not accepted the invitation. Hosts should continually monitor the accepted roster prior to the meeting to ensure top attendance and to reschedule if necessary.
  • Hosts should gather all content they plan to share and upload these materials to the Web conferencing content library or to their desktops prior to the start of the meeting. Pre-loading files to the content library ensures that content is easily accessible and cached, which allows them to load quickly during the meeting.
  • Hosts choosing to share content by attaching files to meeting invites should ensure updates to that material are kept to a minimum once distributed.

 Conduct a Dry Run:

  • To ensure seamless execution of the Web conferencing session, hosts should conduct a trial run. During the dry run hosts should focus on the technical aspects of the session. A proper review of log-in details, audio and video quality, Internet connections, and the features that will be utilized will help to limit delays and avoidable distractions during the live event.
  • Today, callers have a great variety of audio dial-in options, including traditional PSTN and VoIP connections or mobile access over cellular networks. Selecting the most appropriate and reliable connection is imperative. To ensure the best audio quality, hosts and presenters should briefly test their chosen audio solution prior to the meeting’s start. If a presenter is calling internationally, it is recommended that they do so from a toll number using a land line for reliability and quality purposes.
  • Audio quality is one of the most important factors of a Web conference and environmental factors should be considered. Presenters should call in from quiet or private locations with good acoustics. To prevent background noise, presenters should use audio equipment such as headsets, which should be tested prior to the start of the meeting.
  • Meeting organizers should keep a close eye on the clock. Frequent time checks will ensure that the pace is appropriate to clearly and fully share all intended information.

Conduct the Live Event

  • It is recommended that hosts and presenters shut down all applications not directly related to their meetings. Pop-up notifications for incoming e-mail or instant messages, for example, are potential distractions that can be eliminated.
  • Meeting hosts and presenters should always log-in to their Web conferences five minutes early. This will ensure that any required automated software updates are preformed prior to the meeting’s beginning.
  • It is recommended that hosts allow several minutes after the meeting start time for presenters and audience members to log in and adjust their settings.
  • Hosts should be deliberate and clear when activating and explaining conference features that are meant to engage the audience.
  • Just as in the dry run, hosts should keep an eye on the clock to ensure the meeting stays on schedule.
  • Presenters should not attempt to read their prepared scripts or shared content verbatim. Instead they should hit the high points of background and basic information in order to allocate greater time to cover the more complex or important aspects of the content.
  • Hosts should allow sufficient time for Q&A and open discussion at the end, if applicable.
  • Before ending the session, hosts should inform meeting participants and audience members that follow-up information will be made available.

Be Sure to Follow Up:

  • Post-session actions extend the life cycles of effective online meetings. Functionality such as workspace and file-sharing integrations, and recording and playback solutions are evolving Web conferencing platforms into persistent collaboration tools that are used before, during, and after online meetings.
  • Follow-up activities can help hosts overcome poor attendance and expand their potential audiences. After their meetings, hosts can make follow-up tasks, meeting notes, and multimedia recordings available to participants via e-mail, collaborative work spaces, or content libraries. These functionalities extend the meeting life cycle, thereby increasing the value of the meeting and its content.




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