Many companies are using Web seminars to demonstrate their services to potential clients, train employees, and introduce new products to existing customers. These systems are invaluable, but like a good shoe, you need to choose the one that fits you best.
Early Web seminar products required audience members to download software so they could interface with the moderator. This was cumbersome because it required users to make sure operating systems were compliant and corporate firewalls allowed the software in the system. What’s more, unless the seminars are internal, it’s not good business to make clients or potential customers work to see a presentation.
Many newer products use Web-based platforms, known as software-as-a-service, which requires audience members only to have access to an Internet browser. Still, there are many aspects to consider when choosing a product. Before you look at what each has to offer at what cost, ask yourself what you need:
- How many Web seminars do I plan to host a month?
- On average, how many people will be participating?
- How tech-savvy is my primary audience?
- Do I need to allow for multiple presenters?
- How much security do I need when presenting?
- Do I need 24/7 support?
A simple Web seminar product acts like a PowerPoint presentation combined with a conference call. But many have more advanced features. Some can incorporate video. Some use Voice over Internet Protocol, so no phone is necessary. Some allow desktop sharing, so the moderator can control the cursor on an audience member’s screen if the member needs help with an aspect of the presentation, such as with a demo or video.
Other applications, which can sometimes be purchased as add-ons if they are not included in the basic package, include online chat, polling and survey tools, the ability to allow for multiple presenters, and archiving so you can create a library of seminars for future viewing.
Once you’ve defined your needs, ask these questions about the products.
- Does the system run on both PCs and Macs?
- Does the service integrate with leading e-mail and instant-messaging software?
- Is the system completely browser-based (SaaS)?
- Does the service provide desktop sharing?
- Is the system available 24-hours-a-day?
- Does the service come with free integrated toll conference calling or VoIP?
- How many users can log in at one time?
- Is the cost structured as an unlimited subscription, or per-meeting or per-user?
- Are the charges per minute?
- Do I have to sign a long-term contract?
- Is everything I need in the basic package?
- Are upgrades free?
- What kind of support does the service provide? Phone? E-mail? Live chat? (Live chat could be particularly helpful if you are having a problem during a presentation.)
- Is the cost of support included in the price?
- Does the company provide ongoing training?
One way to evaluate a product is to sit in on some Web seminars, even if you are not interested in the topic. Doing so will allow you to ascertain how well the product works. Get recommendations from your own vendors, or even clients. Check out the Web sites of the products. Most Web sites also include product demos. Some have comparison charts outlining what they offer compared to their rivals. Of course, the chart will be skewed toward the product advertised on the site, but by aggregating several you will get a broader list of available applications.
If you find a product you like, ask whether the company offers a free short-term trial. Before using it with your clients, host an in-house seminar to test the product. Make sure you get feedback from your audience members.
On that point, it’s important you balance the ease-of-use for you as moderator with the ease-of-use for your audience. You want your presentation to appear seamless and easy. If the software is cumbersome for you to use well, you are undermining the success of the seminar from the get-go. On the other hand, don’t get carried away with the technology. Consider the nature of your audience before incorporating advanced features. Some people might feel more comfortable on a conference call than on VoIP. If you’re new to hosting Web seminars, start with the basics and add the bells and whistles once you feel like a seasoned Web seminar host.
The following are some of the more popular Web seminar systems: