Follow these steps to build a Web conferencing platform

Web conferencing can provide a viable training alternative for users in remote offices or for those that work from home. Find out how to set up a Web conferencing platform and how to get that first conferencing session off the ground with ease.

In today’s enterprise, where budgets are being cut across the board, cost-efficient and cost-effective technologies are a mandate. One technology that meets both the budget requirements for IT and the ease of setup and use necessary to the corporate training manager is Web conferencing.

During our series on Web conferencing, I’ve discussed why this technology provides a strong platform for information training, and I've examined how a leading company, Xerox, has integrated the tool into its formal training structure. In this third, and final, article in the series, I'll outline the steps for quickly setting up your own Web conferencing infrastructure using Windows 2000 Server, PowerPoint, and NetMeeting.

Infrastructure considerations
In order to set up Web conferencing, you must have a server running an Internet Locator Service (ILS). The ILS has two valuable features. It provides a directory that lists all users currently connected, thereby making it easier to locate and call people; and it puts the bulk of the bandwidth required between the server and each user—not between the presenter’s PC and the participants’ desktops, which speeds connectivity.

Both Windows 2000 and XP servers have a built-in ILS, called Site ILS Server, which makes setting up Web conferencing infrastructure a quick and easy process with no special integration requirements.

If you do not have a Windows 2000 server (or an NT server running Site Server 3.0) and privacy and security are not an issue, there are hundreds of public ILS servers available worldwide. Visit NetMeetingHQ for a listing of these servers.

Final installment
The first article in the series, “Web conferencing can lower cost of training," focused on the potential benefits and limitations of using Web conferencing software in training programs. The second, “Use Web conferencing as part of a blended training approach," described how to integrate Web conferencing software into training initiatives.

Setting up a Web conferencing platform
The two other platform pieces are a conferencing tool, such as NetMeeting, and a presentation (content) application, such as PowerPoint, both of which I’m using in the following setup example.

Once a server with ILS is in place, you're ready to set up and run a Web conferencing session using NetMeeting and PowerPoint. The process involves the following steps:
  1. Develop training content. This could be an application demonstration, a document for discussion, or a presentation. Keep in mind that any primary Microsoft Office products (beginning with Office 2000), such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, can be initiated from within the NetMeeting application.
  2. Schedule the Web conference and inform participants of the day, date, and time. In our example, we will schedule the meeting via PowerPoint.
    From within PowerPoint, access Tools | Online Collaboration | Schedule Meeting. (Note: If you have not previously created a user profile in NetMeeting, you will be prompted to do so prior to accessing the Schedule Meeting screen.) On the Schedule Meeting screen, it clearly indicates that this is an online meeting and that you must choose a server on which to run the meeting.
    You can also schedule a Web conference via Outlook if e-mail is handled through an Exchange server and all of your participants use Outlook. If these two conditions are not met, users will receive a generic message that states the date and time but strips out the online meeting information. You can work around this, however, by placing the meeting information in the body of the notification e-mail. You can also access additional scheduling features, such as checking users' free/busy schedules, available through iCalendar.
  3. Prepare for the conference by testing settings in the NetMeeting application before a conference is held. As audio is sometimes used in online training sessions, you should test the settings by clicking Tools | Audio Tuning Wizard and running the wizard tool to test both audio playback and recording.

Running a conferencing session
For the conference leader, the first step is to open NetMeeting and click Call | Host Meeting. As the session leader, you will be controlling sharing, file transfer, the whiteboard, and the chat feature that lets participants share written comments with the leader and others. The leader may want to leave chat open to initiate participants’ interactivity.

At this point, users then log in and connect to the ILS server via NetMeeting. Users access the ILS directory by clicking Call | Directory and then enter the IP address or domain name of the ILS server at the top of the screen—this can be an IP string of digits or a URL. Once a participant hits [Enter], a list of attendees will appear. From there, a user can choose the host's connection and click Call.

After participants are logged in, the host then sets up the presentation. In our example, the host would open PowerPoint, click Tools | Sharing, choose the PowerPoint presentation file, and click Share. Participants can now view the presentation.

Before beginning the session, leaders may want to remind participants that they can save the chat as a file document for future review once the session is done by clicking Tools | Chat And File | Save As in the Chat window. The leader may also want to save the chat to post on a Web site so attendees can review it later or so the chat can be sent to participants via e-mail.

Prep work prior to conference is key
NetMeeting offers Web conferencing leaders and participants several valuable features and is relatively easy to set up and use.

You may find, however, that having participants review the NetMeeting Help topics prior to the first conferencing session will make the initial conference run smoother. This kind of preparation will go a long way to ensure that the ultimate goals of the effort—solid training or communication on a project—don't fall victim to newbie issues. Microsoft also offers some PowerPoint tips that can help session leaders learn, or refresh, presentation skills.

Are you using Web conferencing?
Write and tell us what kind of Web conferencing tool your enterprise is using or start a discussion below about the lessons you learned while integrating this training approach.


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