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WebEx Meeting Center: Do You Know What You Don't Know?

WebEx Meeting Center provides an ideal mechanism for geographically distributed parties to conduct meaningful business in a media-rich online environment. However, due to a lack of emphasis on training, coupled with an institutional lack of self-awareness, businesses waste far too much time in inefficiently bumbling around in the software instead of mastering WebEx and concentrating on what's really important: the business at hand. Tim Warner sorts it all out for you.

Have you read Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat? In this monumental work, Friedman posits that, thanks to the proliferation of Internet technologies, it is as easy to do business with a partner located on the other side of the globe as it is to do business with an organization that is physically situated next door to you.

I work in a "virtual team" environment: I live in Nashville, TN; my manager lives in York, Pennsylvania; and my colleagues reside in various cities across the continental U.S. Meanwhile, our shared home office exists in yet another city and state. Given our disparate geography, how can our team collaborate effectively? How can we accomplish our business goals when we see each other personally only 4–5 times per year? Well, for us, WebEx Meeting Center has been a godsend.

What Is WebEx?

Cisco WebEx is a suite of Web-based applications that facilitate online collaboration and communication among people. WebEx extends the traditional telephone conference call and provides an electronic replication of a face-to-face business meeting, seminar, or help desk troubleshooting session.

Figure 1 WebEx Meeting Center interface (Click to Enlarge)

With WebEx, presenters can share their computer desktop or just a specific application, document, or Web browser window with meeting participants. Participants with webcams can broadcast themselves to other participants. Voice over IP (VoIP) technology provides the back-end audio for the virtual meetings. You can even record WebEx sessions with a single mouse click and make the session available to others for later viewing.

If your organization already uses WebEx, doubtless you are familiar with not only the benefits of the software, but also some of the "pain points" of using WebEx Meeting Center. Let us spend some time outlining the most common WebEx Meeting Center use cases; see if you can relate to some of the frustrations we will describe.

Scenario #1: The Befuddled Participant

John works as an instructor for a professional school. His boss, Larry, asked John to participate in a WebEx meeting led by Terry. Because he has never used WebEx before, John is understandably confused. After clicking the meeting link in his invitation e-mail message, he isn't sure what to do next. Does he just press Join? Does he need to register a WebEx account in order to join a meeting as a participant?

John, panicking, frantically calls some of his colleagues, only to discover that none of them knows too much about using WebEx, either. A flurry of increasingly tense messages pass between meeting participants and Terry, the meeting organizer; and by the time the WebEx session actually begins with all present, 15 minutes of valuable work time are lost and tempers are flaring.

Scenario #2: The Accidental Meeting Leader

Terry is asked by his boss, Lynn, to lead a business meeting by using WebEx Meeting Center. While Terry has contributed to dozens of WebEx meetings as a participant, he nonetheless feels out of his element and a little bit blindsided at this eleventh-hour request.

Feeling the pressure, Terry tries to blunder his way through scheduling a meeting, only to find after the initial meeting invitations were sent out (to all 50 participants) that he made some setup mistakes. Several iterations of overlapping e-mail invitations later, the meeting is finalized and scheduled.

What Terry didn't bank on in serving as a WebEx meeting leader was fielding support questions from connecting participants like John, and having to perform administrative actions during the Web conference like passing the presenter's "ball." By the time the webinar concludes, Terry's principal thought is, "Whew! I hope I never have to do THAT again!"

Scenario #3: Pass the Ball, Do-Se-Do

Pat's workgroup is making a sales presentation to a potentially large client via a WebEx meeting session. Because the sales pitch involves multiple presenters Pat, Karl, and Carrie, Pat's team must by necessity share Presenter control in WebEx to allow each person to share his or her desktop in turn.

However, chaos ensues during the actual meeting. Pat cannot for the life of her remember the procedure for passing control of the WebEx presenter's "ball." Several minutes of frantic instruction-giving ensue, with the net result being that (1) Pat's team comes off looking unprepared and unprofessional to its client; (2) the flow of the sales pitch is completely lost in a muddle; and (3) time is needlessly wasted in trying to wrestle with WebEx presentation features.

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