Virtual Meetings and Toastmasters

MALE HAND HOLDING SMARTPHONE 2

Photo courtesy of DodgertonSkillhause

In August 2015, Toastmasters International approved clubs having a virtual meeting attendance, (https://www.toastmasters.org/Membership/Club-Experience/virtual-attendance) and with some stipulations about use, i.e. for clubs:

  • Vote to approve the allowance.
  • Update their Addendum of Standard Club Options to reflect the club’s decision.
  • Determine the platform to be used and purchase necessary equipment at the club’s expense.
  • Ensure that all members and prospective club members are aware of the option.

Toastmasters has not given much guidance as of yet in terms of what platforms are the best to use, leaving the heavy lifting for clubs to experiment with what works and what doesn’t, they did provide a handy FAQs page that does give some additional information at http://www.toastmasters.org/Footer/FAQ/Virtual%20Attendance though.

Our Cromwell CT Toastmasters club has been discussing the option as well as experimenting with software and the hardware needed in order to let members virtually attend.

Some of the things in discussion to be put into our bylaws were limiting virtual attendees to members only during the first (trial) year and have members from other TM clubs be able to attend only after the trial was over. Guests were not able to attend as virtual visitors. We had to form a committee to see what would work and also decide who would be in charge of the equipment needed to take down, set up and store it. Discussion was had about how many speeches or functionary roles a member could give in a calendar year. Also that members would be bound to not record a meeting and that they must be in good standing to participate in virtual attendance. The by-laws have not yet been formalized for this and I’ll post an update when they are.

The first meeting we did a trial run prior to the meeting using Google+ Hangouts, because the connection at the town hall that we meet at was not the best, we had a severe time lag in term of the video feed and several disconnects. The problem was apparently solved by activating my smart phones hotspot, but we did not at this time get a chance to further experiment with it, as the meeting was called to order. Google+ Hangouts in my opinion is not the most user-friendly (and I have used personally multiple times before) as you need a Google+ account, it does disconnect and the sound and video do tend to glitch quite a bit, especially if someone has a slower connection. I decided to start with that one in lieu of not having a lot of time prior to research other good free options (which for clubs research platforms you need to set aside quite a bit of time to research this).

Since our last meeting, in search of some alternatives to try for the next upcoming meeting, I have tried several dozen other free conference/meeting alternatives, concentrating on the free ones as most TM clubs may not have the budgets for the paid ones, some of which can be quite pricey. The following ones I’ve now experimented with in several places with friends as guinea pigs in areas using slow, mid-range and faster connections.

Here’s my list with some comments baring actual in meeting trials (coming next week).

#1 GotoMeeting Free (easiest to use)
https://free.gotomeeting.com/

  • Up to three people on video
  • No application installation needed 
  • Has screen sharing capabilities
  • Works on Chrome books
  • You just share the link to login by email to the other users
  • No account sign up necessary
  • Phone app is only available for the paid version

Tie for second place #2 Anymeeting Free
https://www.anymeeting.com/FreeSignUp.aspx

  • You need to download the application for the host and for attendees
  • Up to 4 attendees
  • Phone app is not very good (tested)
  • You have to invite people by email
  • You can do screen sharing,
  • The video squares for attendees are smaller than Gotomeeting as is the screensharing box
  • Works on Chrome books.
  • You have to sign up for an account

Tie for second place #2 Skype
http://www.skype.com/

  • You need to download the application for the host and for attendees
  • You have to sign up for an account
  • Phone app is not very good (tested)
  • Group video up to 10 people, the more people on the video seems to it all slow down, we tested with 4 people several times and it was a snoozer
  • Video boxes are small
  • I had issues using it on my Chrome book (it disconnected more than a regular PC or Mac) as its a web based application instead of an installed application

Some of the other applications tested and discarded for reasons such as not being user-friendly, sign up process for attendees is cumbersome, video boxes are very very small, connection issues with anything below a superfast connection and potential privacy issues.

These were some other possibilities tested but not overly happy with them:

  • Google Hangouts (if you have a super fast connection this may work for you) no installation needed but does require a Google+ account.
  • Oovoo (if you use be careful of installing the “add ons”), requires an application installation and email sign-up.
  • join.me, requires an application installation and email sign-up. Video circles for attendees were very small.

These were some additional ones I tried and didn’t make it in the running at all as suggestions/options: (these were actually recommendations from several business meeting oriented sites interestingly enough).

  • Hipchat
  • TinyChat
  • Meeting Burner
  • Yugma
  • Zoho

There are also dozens of other video sharing sites and applications out there, I checked out and researched a bunch more, all of which were discarded from even doing a trial run with because some installed adware or in a couple of cases malware (for ones that required installation) or others let users login to and view someone else’s meeting without the main attendees knowing.

There are plenty of Paid applications that would work for a virtual meeting but unless we find that we don’t find a free application that will do the job we probably will not pursue that route. More next week!

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About Chef Forfeng

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