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Choosing a Video Conferencing Service: A Buyer's Guide

Choosing a Video Conferencing Service: A Buyer's Guide
Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Video conferencing is a useful tool that helps teams collaborate, especially as it becomes more common for people to work remotely. Video conferences bring more to the table than regular conference calls, including physical gestures, facial expressions and the ability to share screens.

Choosing the right video conferencing service for your business is important. How many participants will regularly sit in on your calls? Do you need to integrate other applications, such as Google Docs, to share with other users? How often do you intend to utilize video conferences? You need to consider all these factors before you decide. A platform with all the bells and whistles could turn out to be a waste of money, but a free service might not provide the features you require.

To help you narrow down your choices, Business News Daily compiled the following guide to selecting a video conferencing service that's right for your needs. You can also view our vendor recommendations on our best picks page.

Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

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As with any other purchase, it's important to know what you need to get out of your video conferencing service before you choose one. For example, a large company might need to loop in dozens of participants at once, while a smaller company might only require one-on-one conferences. Here's what you should keep in mind when searching for a solution:

  • Number of participants: Consider how many participants are likely to sit in on these conferences regularly. Some services allow you to connect a handful of participants for free, so if you don't need to connect a lot of people, you might not need to pay much (or anything at all). Other services specialize in connecting a large number of users; some even allow unlimited users to join the conference. The range is wide, so knowing what you need before you start looking can save a lot of time and help you determine how much money you should consider spending.
  • Ease of use: It doesn't matter how many participants you're hosting if they can't figure out how to use the software. Make sure you select a video conference service that's easy to navigate. Otherwise, you might start presentations without essential participants watching, or miss an opportunity to connect altogether. Don't let an unfriendly user interface be the only thing holding your business back.
  • Types of meetings: Some of the high-end services allow you to launch different rooms depending on the type of meeting. Do you like to host open-forum Q&As where everybody can give feedback? Are you giving a presentation or lecture and prefer that other participants be muted? Know what kinds of meetings you'll typically host, or, if you host a variety of meetings, look for a service that can accommodate all your needs.
  • Mobile experience: The whole point of video conferencing is to be able to connect to people remotely, and sometimes, that means connecting from a mobile device. Much like with the user interface in general, you'll want to try out a video conference service on both tablets and smartphones to make sure any participants connecting through mobile will have an equally positive experience as those connecting via desktops.
  • Video/audio recording: Sometimes, it's helpful to save the highlights of a meeting for later. Video and audio recording capability is essential if you like to go back and replay meetings or conferences. If your participants aren't great at taking notes, maybe an online archive of past meetings would do them some good. With this feature, you can also save snippets of meetings for introductory or training materials for new employees.
  • Screen sharing: You can enhance meetings and presentations greatly by making them more interactive, and screen sharing is a central component of keeping participants engaged. If you need to explain the finer points of a presentation or show a remote employee how to access certain documents, screen sharing can help you do it more quickly.
  • Application integration: Many video conference platforms allow the integration of third-party applications, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Sharing software that you already own within a video conference system can help you import presentations and documents. Moreover, many services have note-taking capabilities, and some allow participants to get in on the action with notes of their own. Consider which applications you need to work within your conferencing system and how much influence you want participants to have over a meeting.
  • Customer support: Last but far from least is the quality of a company's customer service. It's worth your while to give the customer service line a call before deciding to partner with a company so that you can get a feel for how it'll treat you. When something goes awry, you'll want a tech support line that responds quickly and accurately, and treats you with the seriousness and respect your business deserves.

Once you've determined your needs, it's valuable to browse available free trials and play around with the systems. Many video conference services offer free trials that last anywhere from a week to a month; some even offer free trials until a certain amount of data is used. There's no need to go in blind when companies offer so many test runs. Take advantage of the free trials, and make sure a service truly meets your needs and addresses your priorities satisfactorily before you buy. 

Video conferencing has expanded human communications much like how the telephone did more than a century and a half earlier. Emerging technologies already hold the promise of enhancing and revolutionizing video conferencing as we understand it.

Incorporating augmented reality or virtual reality into video conferencing in particular can make for a more immersive, impactful experience. Imagine standing in a virtual space with your business associates, discussing operations amid a sea of interactive charts, schematics and prototypes. AR and VR open up video conferencing to the possibility of collaborating across vast geographical distances as if the participants were physically in the same room. That future is rapidly approaching as the technology develops; video conferencing is only going to become a more integral part of doing business in the digital age.

Ready to choose a video conference service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.
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Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.