Crash course: Get to grips with video conferencing

Travel costs getting too much? Slash them using the power of technology...

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Your organisation's travel expenses are phenomenal: one bunch of people have been stranded by BA strikes and another lot still haven't come home after the volcanic ash. Is there another way to hold their meetings - like video conferencing?

Will it work?
The advantage of video conference over other remote meetings is that you can see the other people and everyone is giving it their undivided attention, says Richard Malcolmson, head of sales, BT Video Conferencing. He adds: 'If you are meeting someone for the first time, or the social element is an important part of the meeting, then video may not be appropriate.' Interviews are fine, sackings are not.

What's wrong with using the phone?
'Psychological studies have shown that 55% of communication is visual,' says Gary Lloyd, regional director of video products, Cisco. 'Your facial expression tells so much.'

Make it regular.
'One of the big advantages of video is much more frequent contact,' says Lloyd. 'The big growth area is ad hoc video meetings, and the more you use this technology the better it becomes.'

Choose your format.
The buzzword is tele-presence, which means creating the impression everyone's in the same room. Web conference via the internet works best when you want to share documents.

Hide the technology.
'There is a fear of technology when people walk into the room, and lots of people don't like being on TV,' says Malcolmson. Stow away remote controls, switch off the self-view screen - which can be hugely distracting - and keep the camera static. With a bit of luck, people will soon forget they're on camera.

Chair it firmly.
A video conference meeting should be run like any other meeting, with a clear agenda and someone in charge. Because many video conferences suffer from a slight time delay, it's all the more important to give everyone a chance to speak.

Coach for performance.
'Sometimes there is a half-second delay and that gives people the feeling they mustn't interrupt,' says Lisa Honan, managing director of service provider Eye Network. 'It can help if everyone gives a little pause after they speak. Also, you should learn to be more expansive with your gestures.'

Look your best.
In a world where you can be summoned to a video call at any moment, it's best to look smart all the time. 'Wear neutral, solid colours and avoid a white or light jacket,' says Honan. 'Checks, stripes and busy patterns should be avoided, as these may distort with movement.'

Observe etiquette.
Don't start talking among yourselves; don't play with your BlackBerry in the meeting; and if you're left alone in a coffee break, remember someone may be watching as you squeeze that pimple.

Do say
'Are you all here? Then let's begin.'

Don't say
'That was dreadful, she was just such a ... bigoted woman. Oh dear - is the microphone still on?'

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