Quick Guide to Online Meeting Platforms
There are many different tech options available for your online team meetings and trainings, and all have different pros and cons. Choosing software that fits your group’s needs should be a thoughtful process… there’s no one solution that works for everyone!
Step 1: What are your needs?
Start by figuring out what your group needs rather than going straight to looking at software. For example, if you are organizing in rural communities with low or spotty bandwidth your needs may be different than someone training multilingual groups in an urban context. Will you be discussing sensitive strategy info during your online meetings? Do the people you are trying to connect with online rely on mobile phones for internet access? Knowing your community is key.
Consider each of the following criteria. Click here to make a copy of a more detailed selection rubric you can use to identify your needs and rate different software.
- Interaction/participation options. For example, Training for Change’s online training series demonstrates using a combination of the following tools for engagement: Audio chat, Text chat, Web cameras, Breakout rooms, Collaborative document editing, Screen sharing
- Options for low-bandwidth and phone participants
- Accessibility and ease of use
- Language support
Step 2: What are the options?
Online meeting technology is rapidly changing. New platforms are being created all the time and the features and costs of existing platforms are changing, too. It takes time and energy to set up and learn a new platform, so it’s always good to take a look at the options rather than just going for what you hear other people use.
G2.com is a good source to see the top names in video conferencing at the moment and to get info to start your comparison.
Here are some other lists of options to consider based on questions we get often:
For those who want to do live collaboration without using Google tools, consider these alternatives:
- cryptpad.fr — encrypted live collaboration tools
- we.riseup.net — private wikis and group collaboration
- pad.riseup.net — real-time collaborative text editor
- share.riseup.net — file upload (pastebin and imagebin)
Other Google-free Options: You can also create slides in offline software (like Powerpoint, Keynote, etc.) and screenshare. With this option you can use software that has annotation options allowing people to draw on the slide, or the trainer can do all the scribing, with participants engaging in chat or out loud.
High Security Zoom Alternatives
In addition to the examples in the following slides, here are some other platforms you might look into when deciding what to use for live video or audio conferencing:
- Miro – a range of live collaboration tools and templates with some free options
- Jitsi – free, open source web conferencing for small groups
- Mumble – Free, open source voice & text chat
- Icecream – one way audio & video broadcasting tool
These tools support multilingual online meetings:
- Voiceboxer – multilingual audio & video web conferencing
- Kudo – multilingual audio & video web conferencing
- Zoom – Closed Captioning and live interpretation options
- Stream Text – can work with Zoom for CC
- Mumble – Free, open source voice & text chat
- Zip DX – audio & video conferencing allowing live, human simultaneous interpretation; includes breakouts
For Large Events
Rather than general conferencing software like the above, you may be better off with an online event platform. These platforms can help when you have a large event, for example one with hundreds or thousands of people doing multiple sessions, sometimes in parallel, over one or more days. For guidance on choosing an online event platform, check out the Moving Large Events Online training offered by Training for Change and Social Movement Technologies, which includes a selection matrix and tools specific to this need.
A Note About Breakout Options
Breakouts are smaller rooms outside of the main meeting room, often used to allow more voices to be heard, and for more in-depth conversations. They are possible even without fancy software! Check out How to Run Powerful Breakouts Online for more on this.
Step 3: Making your Decision
After you have determined your criteria and found a few options that might work, try the software out before making a decision. Trying out the software before committing is recommended even if the software is low cost or free. Remember, it takes a big investment of time and energy to learn and teach people to use a new platform. Make sure it’s worth it!
As much as possible, include in your demo people and devices that match your group’s priorities. For example, if the software needs to work well on a mobile device or with shaky bandwidth, make sure you try it out under those conditions.
Keep in mind that often our solutions for online meetings and trainings include a combination of different tools, and every tool or combination of tools has pros and cons. Here are some examples:
In Training for Change’s public online workshops, we use a combination of Zoom and Google Slides. We chose these tools because: Pros: they handled bandwidth better than many other options at the time, had a broad range of participation methods available (including breakout rooms which were a must for us), allowed phone connection, and had good accessibility features. Also, because so many people we support already use these tools, using them allows us to demonstrate them during the workshops. We do not recommend these tools for every group or situation! Cons: At the time we started using Zoom for our online trainings there were no interpretation features, and the security settings are insufficient for some situations. Using Google Slides along with Zoom for engagement is also too complicated for some audiences and purposes.
For some groups, a combination of a conference call line and Google Docs might be a good fit: Pros: free, low bandwidth and landline friendly, no software install required, easy to learn. Cons: no video, no screen sharing, no recording
Another group might choose to use an application like Adobe Connect. Pros: customizable layouts and advanced features, breakout rooms, can collaborate on slides within the app, screen sharing, recording sessions, accessibility features, mobile app available. Cons: high cost, requires good bandwidth, new software to many users
Step 4: Use and Evaluate
Software decisions are rarely forever. Though we definitely don’t want to change software all the time – that can be exhausting and inefficient – once you start using your software, keep an open mind and pay attention. Are the needs of your group changing? Is the software improving or getting worse? Are there new options out there that may meet your needs better? Periodically check in and consider whether it’s time to start fresh at step 1.