Online meetings are gatherings that take place using the Internet as the medium of real-time communication. Rather than have the meeting attendees gather in one physical location, the World Wide Web is used to create a virtual meeting place that can be accessed with the proper login credentials. Depending on the software platform used for the online meeting, participants may be able to communicate with the facilitator or chairperson in several different ways.
One of the most common and inexpensive ways of holding online meetings is to take advantage of the ability to create a private chat room with an audio overlay. In this application, each participant sets up an account with the chat room provider. The chairperson creates the private chat room and invites the attendees to enter the room. Once everyone is gathered, the meeting can take place by typing messages into the common chat board or using the audio function in conjunction with speakers and microphones connected to each participant’s desktop or laptop computer. While the interaction is limited, there is usually no cost associated with this option, and if verbal communication is enough to conduct the meeting properly, using a chat room will work very well.
For more robust online meetings, using a web conferencing vendor may be an option. With a web conference, there is normally the ability to communicate verbally via an audio conference connection that runs independently of the visual portion of the conference. Facilitators can share slide presentations, spreadsheets and other documents with the group by posting them in the viewing window.
With most online meetings of this type, the facilitator may place the other attendees into what is known as a Listen Only mode; that is, they can hear what the facilitator says but cannot verbally respond. Most web conference services allow attendees to send questions and comments to the facilitator via an interface that only the facilitator can see. This approach often works well when there is a need to make a formal presentation. When the facilitator is ready for verbal interaction, there is normally the option of making all connections to the conference fully interactive, or to allow attendees to be recognized and allowed to ask a question or otherwise respond verbally to the facilitator.
Online meetings have several advantages. First, it is possible to hold a meeting on very short notice. People do not have to arrange travel to a physical meeting or block out travel time to and from the meeting. Second, distance becomes no problem. Attendees can participate in online meetings no matter where they are located around the world. Third, online meetings take the convenience of an audio conference call to new heights by allowing visual interaction as well. Many online meeting services make it possible to take advantage of such features as collaboration, multiple chairpersons, and password protected meeting sites.
There is no doubt that online meetings in free and fee-based formats can save companies a lot of time and expense. At the same time, non-profit and faith based organizations can also use online meetings to great advantage, both for internal purposes and to communicate effectively with supporters or adherents of the organization.