As the Canadian partner in the global TechSoup network, meeting in person is rarely an option - we rely on online meetings for our communications. This is especially important for our current project to update our website. For this project, we’re working with the TechSoup development team in Poland, and in order to manage the project efficiently we need to have frequent online meetings to check in on the project status and make sure we are communicating clearly. In these meetings we need to be able to talk to each other for free (i.e. no long distance costs), chat (e.g. send each other URLs) and share our screens.
Originally, we started out using Skype for our meetings, as it had all these features and was free and easy to use. However, as the project went on, we needed to bring more people on the call and still have the ability to share screens. One option to do this would have been Skype Premium, which is pretty reasonably priced. We decided to use GoToMeeting (note: discount rates are available through TechSoup Canada) since we had already been using it for other purposes.
We have found that using GoToMeeting is pretty simple. You can either schedule a meeting or decide to “Meet Now”. Either way, it will give you the information to share with meeting participants so they can join your private meeting. Each meeting can have up to 25 people participating. A big plus of GoToMeeting (over something like Skype) is that participants don't need to have an account to join the meeting. Each participant has the option to join with headphones/microphone, or to call in with a phone. Regardless of which method is being used for audio, all participants have the option to log in to the meeting on their computer so they can see the screen that is being shared.
During the meeting, control for screen sharing can be transferred between participants, so anyone can share their screen. In our project, we’ve found this really helpful to get training on new features and to illustrate any bugs or issues we have run across. Being able to demonstrate what we’re talking about has meant that we’re communicating more clearly and spending less time going back and forth on email.
GoToMeeting has some other features that we’ve used from time to time. It has a chat box that anyone can use to communicate with the group or specific participants, which often comes in handy for sorting out audio issues at the beginning of the call. There is also the ability to give another participant keyboard and mouse control over your screen, mute and un-mute participants, draw on your screen with a highlighter or pen, and record the meeting. My latest discovery is that up to 6 participants can video conference (with a webcam), which is nice especially when you're meeting people for the first time.
For better audio quality, the best approach in our experience is to use a headset with a microphone, or to call in on the phone. You can use your laptop’s speakers and microphone, but this sometimes creates echo. Also, most laptop speakers and mics are not very good quality; the one exception being Mac laptops, which I’ve heard have good enough microphones that you don’t need a headset mic.
If you’re scheduling or starting a new meeting, there are a couple of small things to be aware of. Scheduling a meeting can only be done via the desktop interface, not the web interface (anyone with GoToMeeting has access to both), so make sure to have this downloaded. As well, only the person with the GoToMeeting account can schedule and initiate a meeting (unlike a tool such as Skype, where anyone can start the meeting).
I always allow a few minutes at the beginning of the call to sort out audio issues. Sometimes a participant will have a flaky Internet connection, or a bad headset, or too much background noise, or something else that makes it difficult to communicate. Often the problem can be solved by using a better Internet connection (e.g. wired instead of wireless), and if that doesn’t work, by switching from headset to phone. If one of the participants has a lot of background noise, you always have the option to mute them until they need to talk.
On the whole, being able to quickly and easily set up online meetings has made it much easier to communicate on a project where we are working between different continents and time zones. If your organization is currently doing a lot of conference calls or traveling for in-person meetings, considering using an online meeting tool for some meetings can add a visual element that helps to keep everyone on the same page, and cuts down on travel.