Online group audio/video conferencing for free

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Once again, it’s technology to the rescue.

Usually, to celebrate Independence Day, our family gets together to barbecue some hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch.  This year was a little different.  My daughter is currently taking university classes in Spain.  And my wife is visiting a friend in New Orleans.  We each have a computer, an internet connection, a webcam, and a microphone.  So I did a little research to find out if there was a way we could “meet” over the internet without spending a small fortune.  I found a great way to do this.

Group audio video chat

Actually what I wanted to do is not anything new.  It’s done in the business world all the time.  You may have even attended one – they are called webinars.  For business purposes, people from all over the country or the world can log in and either observe or participate in a corporate meeting.

The common way to do this is through GoToMeeting, or GoToWebinar.  However, those are both pretty expensive – hundreds of dollars per year.  That’s fine for companies that want to pay that, but I wanted something less expensive (or even free).

I found exactly what I was looking for at AnyMeeting (www.AnyMeeting.com).

With most of these services, anyone that wants to attend an online meeting will first need to download some software to their computer and install it.  This is one of the big advantages of AnyMeeting – there is no software to install.  Participants just show up at a website.  Easy!

Here are some other things I like about it:

I can have as many as 200 people in at the same time.  Up to 6 at a time can display their webcams and communicate either with a microphone or by typing in an on-screen chat box.

As the presenter, I can click a button and change from displaying my webcam to displaying my own screen (this is handy if I am demonstrating how to use a program, or if I want to show a Powerpoint presentation).  And, I can designate anyone else to also have “presenter” status if needed.

I can record the meeting (full video and audio) so that if anyone couldn’t make it, they can still watch it later online.

I can also integrate it into other social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and GooglePlus.

And of course, one of the best features – it’s free!

Setting up an online meeting is easy:

1. Go to the site and create a free account.

2. Create a meeting and set the date and time.  You can also choose if you want to require people to register for the meeting ahead of time, and a few other options.

3. Enter the email address for each person you want to invite to the meeting, and include a message from you to be included in the invitation (the meeting date and time will already be in the message anyway).

Here is a comparison of features to other webinar services:

webinar service comparison

I can tell you that this worked out great for us on the 4th of July.  We had 4 different locations participating – Spain (my daughter), New Orleans (my wife and some friends), Clearwater (my parents, my son, and my brother and his family), and me at home in Safety Harbor.  It took a little playing around to get everyone’s mic and webcam adjusted properly but it worked out well (and you don’t NEED a webcam and mic to use this service – you can still attend a meeting and hear and see everyone else).

How is this free?  Because it is ad-based.  You can get the paid version if you want, and get rid of the ads.  But here’s a secret – even the free one doesn’t always have ads.  When we did our family meeting, I didn’t see a single advertisement.

If you are thinking you would like to use AnyMeeting to arrange a business webinar or a family meeting, here is a video that shows the basics of how to do it:

 

So what do you think of this?  Would you use it?  I would love to see your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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