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Videoconference: an Effective Communication Tool

In: Computers and Technology

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Videoconference: An Effective Communication Tool
Gordon Houston
City University
February 5, 2010

Businesses today face the challenge of how to effectively communicate with their employees located in locations across the country, or across the globe. With the constant threat of economic uncertainty, companies need to find ways to maintain their day to day operations, while reducing expenses. Business travel budgets are being cut, forcing companies to be more creative in their use of web conferencing technology. One piece of technology that is commonly used by large corporations is videoconferences.
What is a Videoconference? As described on the website officevideoconferencing.com, “videoconferencing allows people located in different locations to meet and communicate much the same as if they were in the same room”. Videoconferences are meetings that are conducted through internet or satellite networks, using high quality cameras, microphones, and television monitors. Each location is equipped with the ability to see, hear, and speak to each other (an example of a videoconference room is included below). [pic] When accepted by employees, and used appropriately, videoconferencing can bring people in different locations together, in real time, with the functionality to give presentations, collaborate on projects, deliver training, or conduct staff meetings. In order for people to buy into and trust the value in videoconference technology, all parties must feel as though they receive valuable information and interaction, without distraction or interference. If any party involved in a videoconference meeting leaves feeling frustrated with the technology, or their ability to contribute to the meeting, then employees will judge future videoconference meetings as a waste of time, and not worth the trouble. This paper will examine the responsibilities of all parties in making a videoconference meeting an effective and valuable option for multi-site communications.

Rules for all participants In order for any meeting to be effective, each person in attendance needs to fulfill the responsibilities of their role. In a videoconference meeting, role responsibilities are even more important to fulfill, because mishaps that would go unnoticed in a face to face meeting, are heightened in videoconferences. As referenced on the website officevideoconferencing.com, videoconference meetings rely on all attendees, not just the presenter, following a set of common rules, or practices, including: • Making sure all equipment is working before the meeting begins. • Making an effort to speak more clearly than you normally would when on VC. • Putting microphones on mute when not speaking. This will remove echoes and cause fewer distractions for participants. • Set up the conference in a quiet place, such as a meeting room or closed office. • Look straight into the camera when speaking. This gives the audience the impression that you are looking directly at them. • Being actively involved in the meeting, • Acknowledging the limitations of the technology, and agreeing to work with it, not against it • Respecting each persons’ right to contribute to the meeting

Following the guidelines above contributes to a collaborative meeting that integrates locations, and allows participants, regardless of the size of the audience, to be involved in the meeting.

Rules for Presenters Presenters play the biggest role in a videoconference meeting. The presenter is normally the person in charge of the meeting, and therefore responsible for making sure the meeting accomplishes all of its objectives. To ensure the meeting is run smoothly and efficiently, the presenter should incorporate the following best practices (taken from http://www.oucom.ohiou.edu/fd/videocon.htm), each of which is intended to contribute to the meeting being interactive and without distraction. • Send electronic copies of all handouts to participants in advance. This makes participants feel more involved and helps if presentation visuals become hard to see on the videoconference screen. • Arrange in advance for one person per site to be in charge of logistics. Arrange for this person to facilitate any scheduled breakout discussions. • Arrive early to set up for the meeting. Be sure all equipment is working and conduct sound checks. • Introduce yourself at the start of the meeting, and have participants do the same (use this time to check sound and video connections). • Presentation content should be reduced by 25% (compared to face to face presentations). Presenters should fill that 25% with increased audience interaction. • Presentations should be broken down into 15 minute chunks – 15 mins of presentation, 5 minutes for interaction. Meetings follow the same rule, present, then interact, one audience location at a time. • Presentation visuals should be simple and not distracting (no animation or PowerPoint slide transitions). • Regularly check with audience to make sure they can see/hear you. Adjust equipment as necessary. • Allow time to pause between questions and answers so that the slight time delay does not result in people over-talking each other. • Stay stationary in the room (sitting or standing). Videoconference cameras will not follow you around the room. • Conduct meetings as you would with a face to face meeting. Call on people for ideas, recognize when someone wants to speak, give participants a fair chance to contribute.

As the presenter, or facilitator of the meeting, you are responsible for the effective dialogue and transfer of information. This happens when the participants feel confident in the technology, as well as the environment being created with the technology. When used to its full potential, videoconferences can not only be ‘acceptable”, but they can also be preferred methods of communicating information.

Rules for Participants When attending a videoconference meeting as a participant, you are responsible for more than just showing up. Participants need to share the load in making sure that the distance and technology does not interfere with the meeting objectives. As instructed on the Emory University communications resource website (http://it.emory.edu/showdoc.cfm?docid=1006), participants can participate in videoconference meetings by doing the following things: • Be as actively involved as you would be in a face to face meeting. • Ask questions. • If sound quality is an issue, ask people to repeat comments or to speak up. • Reduce distractions in your location (cell phones, laptop use etc). • Encourage participation between all sites by asking questions or directing comments to others in a remote location. • Mute microphone when not in use. • When someone is speaking, reduce background noises (papers rustling, chair movement, side conversations, etc. • Do not speak when someone else is speaking. Wait for current speaker to finish speaking before contributing your thoughts.

When all parties (presenter, participants, contributors), agree to follow common best practice standards, videoconference meetings can be effective and cost conscious. They allow the flexibility to conduct meetings and training sessions across multiple locations, without the inconvenience of travel or multiple meetings.

References
Video Conference Guide (2005). Video Conferencing. Retrieved on Feb 4, 2010, from http://www.officevideoconferencing.com/
Videoconference Presentation Tips. Ohio University. Retrieved on Feb 4, 2010, from http://www.oucom.ohiou.edu/fd/videocon.htm
Video Conference Tips for a Better Experience (2010). EMory University. Retrieved on Feb 4, 2010, from http://it.emory.edu/showdoc.cfm?docid=1006…...

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