Say Hello (Again) to Teleconferencing
Were you scrambling to stay connected with colleagues and customers during the pandemic? Odds are you turned to teleconferencing for help.
That’s the story for millions of us. And it’s worked so well that companies like Twitter and Facebook are now shifting to remote work permanently.
This is actually the second kick at the can for video teleconferencing. It first emerged decades ago and it didn’t work out so well. It was a great idea but technology and Internet speeds needed to catch up first.
And now they have with Zoom, Google Hangouts and others so hot that downloads of webinar apps are even more popular than stay-at-home entertainment apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Zoom, for example, was downloaded an incredible 2 million times in just one day.
So let’s say hello (again) to the webinar and take a look at some tips and tricks to get the most out of this not-so-new technology.
A quick history
Microsoft and Xerox introduced webinar platforms in 1996, and in the next few years companies like GoToWebinar, ClickWebinar, ClickToConference and other companies with no spaces in their names offered services for hundreds of attendees.
But the industry never quite fulfilled its early promise, and over the years the average length of webinars was declining steadily.
It didn’t help that working from home never took off like everyone expected in the computer age. According to the US census, only 5.2% of Americans worked from home in 2017, hardly budging from the 3.3% who did so in 2000.
But then things changed, and this was well before the world was assailed by Covid-19.
Eric Yuan was working at Cisco’s webinar unit Webex and fed up with the industry’s problems. The technology was slow, expensive and buggy. In 2011 he left and founded Zoom.
By 2019 he had built a video conferencing service so loved by customers and investors that it had 50,000 corporate clients, over $331 million in revenue and an IPO that valued the company at $15.9 billion on its first day of trading.
Not bad for a video conferencing industry that had been spinning its wheels since the mid-1990s.
Clearly, webinars were getting traction before Covid-19 forced us to work from home.
Simply put, webinars now provide more services much faster. A quicker Internet and better software have swept aside spotty coverage and the once clumsy process of accommodating different devices.
As speeds improved webinar companies were able to add services.
Companies like WebinarJam provide a laundry list of goodies including group and private chats, sticky announcements, payment gateways, polls and the ability to bring an attendee up onto a virtual stage.
One of Zoom’s most popular features is a virtual background that can put the speaker in front of a company logo or on a beach in Bali. Some students have figured out how to loop a recorded video of them pretending to pay attention. Another feature lets you know if someone has navigated away from the screen for more than 30 seconds.
As the speed increases, the prices have been coming down.
Most webinar companies offer free trials while Google Hangouts is free for video calls involving up to 10 people. Basic plans from companies like GoToMeeting that provide a decent suite of features including analytics, automated emails, branding and payments from attendees are usually less than $100 a month.
More premium services that provide dedicated company representatives, transcripts, custom urls and bandwidth for thousands of attendees can set you back around $500 a month.
Now, with Covid-19 leaving many workers desperate for video conferencing, some companies are even offering services for free. Zoom scrapped the 40 minute limit for schools while Microsoft is providing its paid version of Teams for free. Tencent’s Meeting is free for up to 300 users.
So you’re stuck at home and video conferencing looks like just thing to get the team back to work. Here are some tips to make a perfect first call.
The obvious ones
Set up your laptop or phone in a quiet room. Don’t run programs that compete for bandwith and be sure to have working earbuds or headphones.
Welcome everyone individually as they join the call.
Schedule your invitations to arrive on Tuesday morning. That’s when most webinar registrations take place.
While Tuesday is the best day for invites, Thursday is the most popular day for the actual call. The sweet spot is 11am followed closely by 2pm.
Not everyone can make the call so make a recording that can be viewed later.
Some services allow everyone to add notes to the screen.
Synch with Slack
You can schedule and launch Zoom webinars from within Slack.
Spruce up the call with attractive visuals. Gamers like OBS Studio