No matter what kind of company or organization you run, you are probably well aware of the importance of doing business via the Internet. The availability of various methods of communication online has made it easier than ever to conduct business without the limitations imposed by distance. Whether you are an educator, a business owner or a nonprofit, if you are trying to reach a wider audience or connect with people in other parts of the world, using the right platform for virtual meetings is the best way to go.

Web conferencing allows you to conduct meetings and seminars online, hold discussions and share information in real time. Communicating with others face to face has many advantages over emails or conference calls, as it provides an opportunity to better engage your audience, thereby facilitating a more efficient and productive discussion. Before selecting a platform for your virtual meetings, you have to make sure you understand exactly what features you are looking for to best fit your needs. Here are some of the most popular conferencing platforms out there.

1. Google+ Hangouts

Google Hangouts

Google+ Hangouts makes it easy for anyone with a Google+ profile to engage in conversation and video chat in just a few easy clicks. Hangouts is mostly designed for recreational use and therefore does not provide any of the more complex features offered by other platforms reviewed here, but it’s a great tool for small businesses for holding long-distance face-to-face meetings without too much hassle.

One of the biggest advantages of Hangouts is that anyone with an access to a browser and Internet connection will be able to participate in the chat. Keep in mind that you can only have up to ten people participating in a video call. Apart from the video conference, Hangouts features a chat, so that you can share links and text. Hangouts also features YouTube integration, which means everyone involved in the conference can watch a YouTube video together at the same time. You can also use the “Hangouts on Air” feature to broadcast live video conversations that anyone can watch. Best of all, Hangouts is free to use.

2. SlideShare Zipcasts

SlideShare Zipcasts

SlideShare is a highly popular platform for sharing presentations online. Zipcast is their own social Web conferencing system designed to make it easy to broadcast presentations. It is entirely browser based, so there is no need to download any additional software, and the meetings take place entirely within a browser window.

Unfortunately, Zipcast does not support screen sharing, although it does feature a built-in chat to allow participants to communicate. Because of this structure, Zipcast works better for lectures and presentations rather than discussions. If you want to start a meeting, you will need to sign up for a free meeting room, or register for a SlideShare account and get one assigned to you automatically. You can invite an unlimited number of people to your meetings by simply giving them the URL to your meeting room. However, if you want to hold a private, password-protected meeting accessible only to those you have invited, you will need to register for a SlideShare Pro account.

3. Watchitoo

Watchitoo

Watchitoo is a powerful video conferencing platform that is loaded with useful features. It is a perfect tool for you if video conferencing is an essential part of your business. Watchitoo allows for streams from up to 25 HD webcams, and each video can be accessed by hundreds of thousands of viewers. Passive viewers can become active participants and switch back to being passive with just a click of a button, making this an ideal platform for lectures, presentations and large-scale business meetings.

This platform is designed for easy collaboration around nearly every form of rich media, including presentations, videos and documents. Watchitoo offers a multitude of interactive features, such as the ability to drag and drop questions and chat posts onto the stage for everyone to see. Features such as screen sharing, multiple video feeds and whiteboarding help provide a seamless collaborative experience. Watchitoo is also entirely browser based, and offers valuable insights into attendance and engagement through its advanced analytics tools. You can record your video for on-demand viewing at a later time. Watchitoo is free for up to five people, and costs $39 per month for up to 25 or $49 per month for up to 50 users.

4. Cisco WebEx

Cisco WebEx

WebEx is one of the oldest and most trusted Web conferencing platforms out there. There are no downloads required for participants, and WebEx meetings can be accessed from just about any mobile device. WebEx makes it easy to prepare for meetings and to share any kind of files or media from your computer, including PDFs, PowerPoint presentations or videos.

You can easily switch presenters and let someone else share their files with the group, or brainstorm together using a whiteboard. The basic plan for up to three people per meeting is free, and you can choose from three other plans for eight, 25 or 100 people for $24, $49 and $89 per month respectively. WebEx also offers a training center for creating interactive classes and training videos that allow for up to 1,000 participants, as well as an event center for large-scale events for up to 3,000 participants. All in all, WebEx is a comprehensive and reliable Web conferencing service worth considering for any business.

5. Adobe Connect

Adobe Connect

Adobe Connect is another well-established Web conferencing platform popular among many large organizations and government agencies. There is no client download required and it is easy for your invitees to attend meetings. This platform runs on virtually any device, ensuring that people can connect and collaborate from anywhere in the world.

Adobe Connect allows you to create your own digital office in the cloud, where you can store all your files, documents and notes that you use for meetings. You also have the option to record meetings for on-demand access. The platform is highly secure and requires user authentication. Adobe Connect for eLearning offers all the necessary tools to create online training courses. Overall, Adobe Connect is extremely feature rich and is sure to meet all of your Web conferencing needs, but may be slightly overwhelming if you are only looking for the basics in a virtual meeting service. Adobe Connect offers various plans for organizations and individuals starting at $45 per month under an annual contract. You can also choose the pay-per-use plan at $0.32 per minute per user.

Other Resources

There are also many tools popping up that allow you to connect directly within your browser to other clients often without having to install any plugins/extensions whatsoever.

Desktop sharing and remote desktop tools are very common these days. It is worth looking around and find tools that are perfectly suited for the task at hand. Most tools have some weaknesses, so it is a good idea to continue doing research beyong the 5 tools listed above.

Know of any video conferencing tools that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!