When organisations first adopted remote working arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many jumped straight into free video conferencing options for all their meetings and events. But these may not be the best option.
If you’re trying to reach staff or stakeholders who don’t have a particularly reliable internet connection, for example, a teleconference over the phone can be a better option than risking scratchy audio or glitchy video over the web.
And for sensitive discussions, or to meet legal requirements, a secure, HD video conference is likely to be more suitable than a web conference over the public internet.
So what type, or combination, of technology will best suit your needs? It pays to be aware of the options available, so you can make an informed choice.
If you don’t need to show video, or see your attendees, teleconferencing is the easiest way to meet, and often the most cost-effective.
Teleconferencing uses traditional telephone lines, and VOIP, to let people in different locations communicate in groups by phone.
Many businesses use teleconference calls to communicate with large numbers of stakeholders, engage employees, hold internal meetings, and allow remote or mobile staff to interact easily in groups.
Teleconference calls connect people through a conferencing bridge, which is essentially a server that acts like a phone and can answer multiple calls at the same time. While some organisations invest in their own bridge, most contract with a service provider for conference call hosting, especially when they have a diverse remote workforce.
A quality conferencing bridge is key to a quality conference call, and software plays a crucial role in the capability of a conferencing bridge, besides just connecting multiple callers.
To connect to some teleconference calls, attendees must call a designated number, or wait for an operator or moderator to dial each participant. Many phone conferencing systems also require a login and personal identification number to access the system.
But some services have eliminated dial-in phone numbers and passcodes altogether, instead dialling out to participants automatically. As host, you click a meeting link, your phone rings and your meeting is launched.
Teleconferences are traditionally used for investor briefings, sales meetings and other secure, confidential company events where the host needs complete control over the call.
A web conference lets people in different locations meet by logging into a website, or by using a platform, software or app installed on a user’s desktop or mobile device.
Some programs are entirely web-based, while others use the telephone system to distribute audio content. Some do both, simultaneously, so it’s easier to get everyone involved even if they don’t have an internet connection.
The most basic services simply host text-based discussion groups using chat and instant messaging programs. More sophisticated offerings include live video streaming, instant messaging, and the ability to produce webinars.
The best also let users share documents, screens and whole desktops, view slide presentations from programs like PowerPoint, access a common virtual whiteboard, and conduct polls, surveys and Q&A sessions.
Web conferencing is generally more cost-effective than HD video conferencing (although it is quickly becoming more affordable and accessible) because it’s hosted over the public internet, but it may also have lower video and audio quality than its HD video counterpart.
You can either purchase web conferencing software and host a meeting yourself, or use a hosting service to provide the software and server space to host your meetings.
If you decide to go it alone, it’s important to make sure the software you choose has all the capabilities you’ll need when it comes to meeting types, the location of participants and the level of interactivity you’ll require.
It’s also important to check that it’s compatible with the technology you, and everyone you’re planning to invite, is already using.
You’ll also need to ensure you’ve got enough network capacity to host the number of participants who will take part in your meetings, or use a provider who offers enterprise streaming.
Web conferencing technology is often used to host conference calls, video meetings, and workshops in which verbal interactivity is encouraged among participants, but a visual component is also required.
It also works well for many customer support and sales processes, and is suited to events in which the organiser knows all the participants, needs to connect quickly, and wants to provide the option of participants joining with camera and sound on, or muted.
HD video conferencing is considered the closest thing to actual face-to-face meetings. It’s also considered the most secure (which is why it’s used by organisations such as the US Pentagon).
Video conferences use a video conferencing bridge, which, like a teleconferencing bridge, is a server that allows multiple users to connect to a meeting at the same time, the difference of course being that a video conferencing bridge enables live video (and audio) streaming from all users. Participants connect to a video conference via an IP address.
The use of specialised equipment such as large display screens, professional HD cameras and microphones, and hosting more complex meetings or events from a broadcast studio, can take video conferencing to a whole new level.
A live video stream over a network with in-built security encryption allows participants to communicate in a way that most resembles a traditional face-to-face meeting because of the uninterrupted high definition video and sound quality.
When it comes to security, the best video-conferencing services use encryption and network security to protect data transmission during a video conference, and store all video-conferencing data that a client wants to be saved in special locked-down facilities.
Using a provider’s own locally-hosted servers also means you can take advantage of world-leading infrastructure such as Polycom Video, which means you’re guaranteed the highest quality user experience for every person, every time.
The best video conferencing services today can easily be customised to create different meeting formats and take advantage of interactive tools and features such as chat rooms, file and desktop sharing, virtual whiteboards, Q&A sessions, instant messaging, custom branding, and production and technology support.
They can also operate on any video-enabled device, from mobile phones to boardroom systems.
If you use video conferencing intensively, your security and reliability guarantees are non-negotiable, and you want to project a sophisticated, professional image, high-quality, high-definition audio and video conferencing are probably your best solution.
Hybrid meetings use a combination of web conferencing and teleconferencing — or video conferencing and teleconferencing — technology to reach an audience that is usually known to the host.
The best platforms provide you with the ability to include the web with your teleconference, which will let you record your hybrid meeting, add visual elements, share screens and documents, and launch webcams.
Teleconferencing gives known attendees the option of dialling in if they’re located in remote/rural areas, they’re on the road, or their broadband connection is poor. It also provides the option of operator assistance to provide local support and to manage Q&A.
The web conferencing element provides the opportunity to share visual elements such as video, screens, whiteboards, resources and so on.
Webinars are conducted on dedicated webinar technology that offers a range of interactive visual and audio features provided over an internet connection.
Like web conferencing and video conferencing, these encompass the ability to show video of your presenters speaking, as well as other visual elements including slides.
Webinars also include chat-based public Q&A, private Q&A between the host or facilitator and individual participants, and the option of running live interactive polls.
They allow the host to share resources with attendees, who have usually registered to join the webinar but may not be personally known to the host.
Locally managed webinar providers also provide the option of having the entire webinar managed for the customer, including marketing and registration, as well as running the webinar platform, moderating questions from the audience, launching live polls and collating the results.
Unlike some web conferences and video conferences, feedback during webinars is often held until the end, giving the host more control over the event.
They work well for education and training courses, marketing presentations, panel debates and roundtables, as well as for managing lengthier online conferences and corporate events such as virtual AGMs.
They may include one or more speakers, presenting remotely or from a broadcast studio.
Managed studio webinars give the host the ability to include a variety of content formats, such as pre-recorded video clips, and in-person interview-style Q&A segments, throughout the webinar.
They may be offered live or on-demand.
Hybrid events add a virtual component to face-to-face events, allowing your attendees to access your content online and from any device, during the event (not to mention after it).
A recent survey of industry associations – a sector which drives a majority of its revenues from events – found that 70% of respondents said the ability for participants to be able to attend a future face-to-face event remotely was either a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ priority following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many options when it comes to staging hybrid events: you can include a live stream filmed at the event; you can provide key sessions on demand; you can also pre-record sessions, or mix and match online and offline content distribution.
Hybrid events remove the risk of having your face-to-face event called off if restrictions on public gatherings and transport tighten again. They also reduce your reliance on filling seats to justify the expense of a face-to-face event, especially in an era when people are likely to be reluctant to travel and attend large public gatherings.
Hybrid events also let you reach new audiences, generate content for other channels, offer more sponsorship opportunities and even create an online revenue stream for your content.
Hybrid events are great for making local conferences and marketing presentations accessible to a broader, geographically dispersed audience, and open up the possibility of offering event content on-demand as well as live.
For more tips on choosing the right platform for your remote event or meeting, check out our eBook, 50 Fabulous Virtual Event Ideas.