Monday, January 12, 2009

GoToMeeting Really is Like Being There

GoToMeeting is touted as a business solution that can replace in-person business presentations. The concept is compelling. Add up the cost of travel plus the value of the time lost getting to and from the designated meeting spot times the number of participants and the cost of even a small get-together can be staggering. Once you discover the true cost, you really can't justify calling business meetings anymore unless they are absolutely essential. Certainly not if there is an electronic solution that can strip away all the inefficiency and leave you only with the incremental cost of the meeting itself. But is there really?

GoToMeeting - Online Meetings Made EasyI had a chance to experience GoToMeeting for myself a few days ago. The subject was a presentation from a telecommunications vendor to a group of marketing agents. The presentation itself had the mission of introducing the company's product line, providing enough information so that agents were equipped to sell the products, and generating enough interest that sales efforts would begin almost immediately. A combination audio conference call with GoToMeeting visuals was selected as the best way to simultaneously reach this geographically diverse group of agents.

Participation was simplicity in itself. An email message invited each of us to participate by dialing a phone number and entering a conference code to connect to the audio portion of the program. I did that on my trusty Uniden speakerphone that sits on my computer table. Also in the invite was a link to click to join the visual portion of the program. Clicking that link took me to the GoToMeeting site where the system downloaded a small piece of client software to my computer. It was all automatic and took less than a couple of minutes. There were instructions to follow if something got stuck in a firewall or didn't load properly. No need. GoToMeeting fired up without a hitch.

What I saw on my 19 inch monitor was two windows. One was a blank presentation screen. The other was a control panel. GoToMeeting had asked me to enter my name and email to participate in this meeting. When the control panel appeared, there was my name in the list along with names of the presenter and other participants. A lower window in the control panel offered real-time chat messaging. In this case the message was from one of the meeting organizers who listed the phone number and access code for anyone who hadn't dialed-in yet. Other messages appeared as the presentation went on. I could have entered something to say to the group if I had wanted to.

Once the presentation got underway, the blank screen became a display of the presentation slides. With a click, I expanded this window to full screen and collapsed the control panel. Every once in a while a thought bubble message appeared on the panel announcing that a new participant had joined the meeting.

With the big screen display of the meeting slides a foot from my nose and the presenter's voice on the speakerphone, I was quickly having flashbacks to the last few times I sat in a darkened conference room listening to a similar presentation with no better view of the slide screen or ability to hear the presenter. This was better and more comfortable, as I relaxed in attire too informal for even casual Fridays in corporate America. Plus, this call was in the evening. Sure glad I didn't have to go out in the freezing air and drive ten miles just to sit in somebody else's paneled room. They probably would have provided a plate of coffee and donuts as a favor. But I was glad to sit in my warm office and munch my own cookies.

In my case, I got the full value of an hour's meeting while avoiding an extra hour's round trip through town just for transportation. That's assuming an in-house presentation. If the meeting was at a remote office or plant site, there would be a bus ride, plane trip, rental car and perhaps an overnight in a hotel just to get the same information from the same source with the same fellow participants. Now, I ask you. In this economic environment which makes more sense: Going to a meeting or GoToMeeting?

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter