Online Meetings are a Snap with GoToMeeting
Like the Company Says, "Meetings Made Easy"
In about fifteen minutes, there's a meeting scheduled with a user in England, the VP of Sales in Houston, and the software product manager in Canada. Oh, and I’m in Norway. We set this up so I can demonstrate new features of our software and conduct a brief one-on-one training session, and so the other participants can follow up on a support question. What’s fascinating is that none of the four of us even had to leave the room to attend: we’re doing a GoToMeeting.
You haven’t used GoToMeeting? Well, it’s simple; sort of the on-line equivalent of a conference call with streaming video. People sitting at their computer screens (Windows or Mac) anywhere in the world all see the same images and hear the same audio simultaneously. The company where I work uses it for sales presentations, software demos, light training, and employee meetings. We share a PowerPoint presentation or video, or give a real-time demonstration of our software; no matter what program is running, the view is the same for anyone watching.
We have a corporate license that allows as many as twenty-five participants. Any one of them can route the screen through a projector, so way more than twenty-five people can view simultaneously. We license five “organizers” who can initiate meetings at the same time. Citrix also makes GoToTraining for up to 200 attendees and GoToWebinar, which allows up to 1000 participants.
How This All Works
Organizing a GoToMeeting
Before your first meeting, download the software from Citrix and register the license. An organizer license is tied to an email. Once you’ve registered, you can create a meeting on the fly – you’ll be prompted for the emails of attendees to join immediately – or schedule one in advance. Either way, invitees receive email notification. If you schedule a meeting in the future, the invitation converts the time to the email recipient's local time, as defined by the receiving computer’s operating system. Outlook users will find the invitation added to their calendar, and the calendar entry details include a unique URL assigned to the session.
At the scheduled hour, participants join by clicking on a “Join my meeting” link (you can also join from the Citrix website if you know the unique ID number). This initiates a web browser session connected to the Citrix server. If you’re on the same network as the organizer, you need only click the link; outsiders must also enter a nine-digit access code to connect. The audio portion can be carried with the video as a VOIP signal, or attendees can dial in on a phone; dialing in requires that users provide a PIN for security. Dial-in service includes the ability to mute and un-mute. For small or in-house collaboration sessions, you can also simply phone the other attendee(s) directly.
Participating in a GoToMeeting
Credit: authorThe first time you join a GoToMeeting,you'll install a browser add-on – this is normal (WebEx requires a download, too). Then click on the link in the email or paste it into the internet browser address bar. You can either call the phone number (long-distance charges apply) or use a headset and microphone for the VOIP option. Then sit back and watch. If phone costs are an issue, Citrix lets the organizer send you a local dial-in number (local to the country, not your city) if you're in Australia, Europe or North America.
- The organizer can make any attendee a “presenter,” at which time his or her screen will become visible to everyone. This is great for helping diagnose software problems if you’re a support type.
- The presenter can hand off control of his or her screen and mouse. This allows one person to run programs on a second person's desktop while everyone else watches. Any attendee can be given control of the screen that’s currently active. The organizer controls this function as well.
- A presenter can designate what is broadcast such as a blank desktop, the entire desktop, or a specific application. This is great for taking notes while others are watchingCredit: Frank Schulenberg / wikimedia commons your screen (not available on Mac).
- Each participant has mute and volume controls for the audio, and can choose a telephone connection or VOIP as needed.
- There’s a chat mode so attendees can type questions for the organizer or for the entire audience.
- Citrix has recently added the ability to use an HD webcam if you are inclined to share; any or all attendees can do so.
- Citrix has released Android, iPhone and iPad apps so you don’t need a desktop or laptop to join. If you have a license tied to your email, you can start meetings from your mobile device. I haven’t tried them.
- The audio and video can be recorded (audio only if using the designated telephone lines and/or VOIP); the chat log is recorded as well
GoToMeeting licenses are available on a month-to-month basis or annual fee. Corporate license pricing is dependent on the number of seats used. There are no additional charges for meetings: as long as the license is current, meetings may be of any duration. The audio is included free, although normal phone charges – including long distance – apply if not using VOIP. There's also a toll-free option at additional cost.
There are, of course, free web-conferencing products. They are not as fully-featured, however, and often include advertising. It seems to me that a potential client might be disturbed by a web conference studded with advertising, however...
Credit: authorMy GoToMeeting experience has been universally positive. The add-on is small and downloads quickly. You’re at the mercy of the available bandwidth, of course; so heavy traffic on your network can degrade signal quality and very long-distance meetings (I’ve been on meetings to Asia and Africa) can be slow, especially if the presentation is graphics-intensive. In my experience, using a headset and microphone for the audio is preferable to a telephone, especially a speakerphone (even full duplex); and the invitations suggest this option. A USB headset seems to give much better results than a headset using pin plugs; not sure why. I’ve attended meetings from my office and from client offices, from my home, and even from hotel rooms: anywhere with a broadband connection can become your remote office!
I’ve been in hundreds of GoToMeetings and they rarely fail (and then it's usually a connection problem or the computer): I’m sold. Though a web conference of this sort can’t replace face to face meetings, I have no doubt that the technology has made long-distance collaboration far easier even as it’s reduced the need for expensive travel.
When you come right down to it, about the only thing I don’t like about GoToMeeting is how slowly my frequent-flyer mileage account is growing now.