Distant meeting made simple

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When I make a mistake, I think of the late New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, who is said to have remarked during an administrative calamity, “It’s a beaut!”

My “beaut” is staring me in the face: I´m supposed to be somewhere distant this week for a presentation, and I don´t know if I can swing the trip. At the other end, there are a few dozen people waiting to hear what I have to say.

What to do? Technology might yet “save the day” for me: It turns out there are numerous ways to record and/or transmit the presentation that I´m supposed to give over there, while remaining here.

The first was suggested by my friend David Coursey, a veteran tech journalist, who believes my answer might be found in GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. These are online services hosted by Citrix, a Florida firm specializing in remote-access technologies, primarily for Windows-based computers. Mac users can participate in the online sessions, but not host them, the firm´s Web site states.

The idea is to assemble a small or large group that can log in via an Internet connection, generally something faster than a 56 Kbps dial-up modem. Using a Web browser and a downloadable plug-in, you´re connected, securely to a group that you or the presenter has organized; slides can be shown and ideas shared visually. You can either “chat” via the keyboard or call in to a conference call number and speak at the same time the onscreen presentation is shown.

Pricing starts at $49 a month for GoToMeeting, which can handle up to 15 participants at a clip. Larger groups require the GoToWebinar service, at $99 per month, for up to 1,000 participants. More details can be found at www.citrixonline.com.

The Citrix services will let you record your meeting for replay at another time, using Windows Media technology, something that allows you to incorporate audio narration. Such recordings can usually be viewed on all platforms.

Another approach would be to record my presentation as a “podcast,” using any of the many programs available for Windows or Mac users. On the Mac side, I´m a huge fan of Apple´s Garage Band, part of the $79 iLife application suite. Use the built-in video camera on most current Macs, either the internal microphone or the Blue Microphones $99 “Snowball” mic, and you´re good to go. Not long ago, I used just this setup to record a video narration for a business film, and the producers were quite pleased.

The Mac offers at least two other options that might work well: one is iChat, the text and voice/video conferencing software built into the OS X operating software. Another intriguing option is ScreenFlow, a $99 program from Vara Software in London (www.varasoftware.com). This program, which my colleague Adam Engst of TidBITS newsletter suggested, will record both everything you do onscreen and a video/audio narration. You can show the two side by side, edited so that the slides are visible along with your video.

The program lets you export the recordings as a QuickTime movie, again playable on almost every computer platform, as well as the YouTube service. The firm also makes software for “Webcasting” that can handle larger creations using stand-alone video cameras, including HD quality.

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