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What Is Video Conferencing?

Video conferencing has become ubiquitous between offices to cut down on employees having to travel between sites for meetings. It's also become popular as a marketing tool for holding webinars and other online events. The technology is getting another boost in popularity as a wave of growth has hit the telecommuting sector in 2020. One of the most effective ways of staying healthy, or the only way to remain working while dealing with Social Distancing, is going to be working from home. One of the most effective tools for success in these situations is video conferencing. You'll be looking at different hardware components from the ones you've deployed in your conference rooms to make broad scale video-enabled telecommuting work, but the back-end service providers will remain similar.

Additionally, video conferencing services usually offer more than just face-to-face interactions. Best-in-class video conferencing services let users share their screens, remotely access one another's desktops, chat via text, exchange files, communicate via digital whiteboards, and even broadcast conferences to large groups of passive viewers. Some are part of business-geared Voice-over-IP (VoIP) packages, which allows for dynamically changing voice calls to video calls and shared meetings at the touch of a button without establishing new connections.

Aside from shared meetings, video conferencing is also an efficient way of getting other business tasks done, whether that means addressing customers' support questions live, interacting with customers in real time webinars or other marketing events, and even reaching out to partners.


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Cut Costs By Using Video Conferencing!

Businesses are moving further apart. That is, many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are becoming spread out across many geographic locations, which brings complex challenges for communication, even for employees that work in-house. Add customers and partners to the mix, and it's difficult to think about talking to all of these folks without extensive travel, which brings restrictive costs. This is where video conferencing can deliver a serious boost to your company's bottom line.

Instead of spending half your life in airport lines, bring life to your meetings by using a video conferencing service. This way, the presenter is not just a voice on the phone but an on-screen presence who is able to see and interact with other attendees, share presentations, and more. For collaborative meetings, the host can sketch out ideas on an online whiteboard and invite participants to join in. Some video conferencing services let presenters pass control to another participant who can continue the meeting without interruption. Others let hosts deny access to latecomers to further avoid disruption.

Video Conferencing Package Pricing

As with all software services, pricing and packages are an important consideration when it comes to video conferencing. The prices quoted and the product descriptions in this review roundup I have done from PCMag are typically for the lowest level of service per user per month. (For more pricing information, click through to the individual reviews.) All but one of the video conferencing services tested offers free trials (most are for 30 days) and many don't require a credit card on file. This means you don't have to worry about being charged automatically when the trial ends.

For example, offers a free plan with limited features, which is good for small or even single-employee companies. Many services are scalable depending on the number of hosts and attendees you need. I recommend trying a few of PCMags top-rated video conferencing services before committing to a particular one; try out some of the features to figure out what you really need and what's overkill.

Another major consideration is whether or not the service is priced to scale based on host or attendee. Those that are priced per host tend to do better for webinar-type environments while those priced per attendee tend to be more attractively priced for collaborative-style engagements where anyone could be a host. Microsoft Teams, for instance, is a sunk cost if you are already using Microsoft Office 365, so it is a very attractive option. However, if you routinely conduct webinars, then ClickMeeting, which is priced per host, is an excellent route to take.

Ease of Use and Meeting Features

Once you have found packages in your price range, the most important consideration is ease of use. Obviously, if the user interface (UI) is difficult for you and your colleagues to navigate and use, then it's going to cause delays in meeting start times, which will frustrate everyone. For each review below, PC Magazine will discuss the ease of signing up, creating a meeting, inviting participants, and setting up audio and video controls. They also look at the user experience (UX) from the meeting invitees' point of view, which can make or break a meeting.

PC Magazine tested each service's prominent features, but it's up to you to decide whether or not you need dial-in numbers, VoIP, or both options for your audio, and whether or not you need video calls in addition to screen sharing. Some services offer both teleconferencing with dial-in numbers (local or toll-free) and VoIP calling, while some offer just one or the other. A few offer international dial-in numbers. All of the products reviewed offer video calls via webcam.

In all of these reviews, PCMag hosted and joined meetings to test the experience of both registered and non-registered users. They outline how easy is to join a meeting, including whether or not a participant needs to download software before joining an online meeting (which could cause a delay). In this case, it's important to communicate with employees about hardware compatibility and preferred browser. Other services simply require that attendees enter a code to access the meeting.

Their reviews also cover the host's admin features. The best services let you set up different types of meetings, such as a lecture-style meeting in which all participants are muted, or a discussion or Q&A mode in which presenters can mute and unmute participants as needed or let all participants speak. If you have ever been distracted by the sound of someone typing or a barking dog in the background, then you'll appreciate these controls. Other options include enabling and disabling webcams, locking latecomers out of a meeting, creating a waiting room while preparing for the meeting, and allowing break-out sessions.

For presentations, screen sharing is important as are granular options such as the ability to share just one application [Microsoft PowerPoint (8.25 Per User Per Month with Annual Commitment at Microsoft Office 365 for Business), for example], document, or image or share your entire desktop. Most of the video conferencing services in this roundup also offer a whiteboard tool, which you can use to sketch out ideas or take notes during the meeting for everyone to see. You also need to consider what the participants are able to do, such as share their screen, enable their webcam, sketch on a shared whiteboard, and even take over the presentation. Think about how much actual collaboration you'd like in your meetings.

Other features they looked at included the number of participants allowed on a call and the number of video feeds allowed simultaneously. A few generous ones offer unlimited participates while others offer just four participants at a time. Consider how important this is to your company. Most services let you record meetings, and a few let you edit the recording right within the software. These recorded meetings can then be used for your records or as webinars for anyone who missed the meeting or for new employees.

Video Conferencing Software Reviews

Where to Buy

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