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October 9, 2009

VIDEO CONFERENCING 3:A handy guide to effective virtual meetings

As news emerges from The Whitehouse and Downing Street that virtual meetings have got the high level seal of approval, the concluding part of our video conferencing trilogy looks at the dos and don’ts of video-based meetings. Pete Roythorne investigates.

The G20 Summit, held earlier this year at London’s ExCeL, was a high level endorsement of the fact that face-to-face meetings are crucial to not just the future of business, but also to the future of the world.

Add this to the news last week that President Obama and Prime Minister Brown had held their first meeting via video conference, and you could possibly be forgiven for thinking that the US President is not happy just to right the wrongs of the world (winning a nobel prize in the process), but is now intent on leading the meetings agenda, too.

In a demonstration of just how “on the button” we are here at MEETINGS:review, this has coincided nicely with our look at whether video conferencing can really be taken seriously as a meetings medium. The answer, it would seem, is a categorical “yes”!

But integrating video conferencing into your meetings portfolio brings with it it’s own set of dos and don’ts…


Government backing: high level support for video meetings
could spread to the business community


For Jon Tracey, engineering manager EMEA at manufacturer of high definition video conferencing equipment LifeSize, the first place to start is with support for video conferencing within an organisation.

“Video conferencing is not simply an executive boardroom-only application. Companies should make it as broadly accessible as possible,” he explains. “The more staff use video conferencing the more they will start to rely on it, resulting in an even better return on investment (ROI). Advertise in your organisation – internal emails, posters, on travel authorisation forms – where video conferencing can be accessed and the benefits of video over travel.”

It’s not just people that communicate

With buy-in and access sorted, there’s the small matter of interoperability. Simon Hunt, commercial director, meeting rooms and video conferencing at meetings space provider Regus, advises thorough testing beforehand.

“You need to make sure that both ends of a video conference call work together prior to the call. If you’re remotely concerned about the kit interoperability, test it, don't wing it,” he warns.

Like any face-to-face meeting, it’s important to ensure there is a clear agenda and that sensible and achievable objectives have been set. This ensures you get maximum possible ROI. However, there are certain specifics for video conferencing, as Paul Louden, vice president of sales, UK and Ireland at Polycom points out.

“Of course it’s important to provide an agenda, but you also need to provide specific start and stop times before the meeting. There’s often less flexibility here than with face-to-face meetings,” he explains.

Jeff Prestel, general manager of BT Conferencing’s Video Business Unit, agrees, adding: “Companies should always try to use a common scheduling tool to make sure that everyone is up to speed with times and meeting changes.”

Lighting the way

There are also specific issues with the space used for video calls, as Louden explains: “If there are windows in the room, close any drapes or blinds. Daylight is a variable light source and can conflict with interior room lighting and, therefore, the picture on-screen.”

On top of this, he advises that people use the preview mode to best adjust the camera angle and ensure that there are no alternate light sources interfering with the picture quality before the call kicks off.

“Try to fill the screen as much as possible with people rather than with the table, chairs, walls, lights, or the floor,” he continues. “Once in the conference, introduce all of the participants at your location and encourage the other site to do the same.”

Because people are not actually in the room with you, it’s sometimes easy to forget that they can see and hear everything that’s going on.

“Limit side conversations and determine if you really want the people on the other end of the call to hear what you are saying,” warns Louden. “If not, use the ‘mute’ button.”

Sharing content appropriately
Using content within your video conference call, such as DVDs and PowerPoint, raises even more issues specific to the medium.

“Share content appropriately,” says Louden, “studies show video conference participants respond best to a ratio of 80:20 people to content. If you want your viewers to concentrate only on the content, then switch the camera to this video source – the other sites will be able to hear you even if the video doesn’t show you, and its not as distracting.”
People tend to modify their behaviour when confronted with a camera, and it should be essential for companies to employ some sort of presentation training if they are using video conferencing. Louden highlights some of the basic errors that people tend to be drawn into.

“Avoid nervous gestures like fussing with your hair or clothing and excessively moving your hands as this can distract the other participants. Do not tap pens or rustle papers near the microphones – the far side can hear this and it is distracting during a meeting,” he warns. “Also don’t focus on the preview monitor as the viewers may sense you are not looking at them.”

Louden also warns against fiddling with the camera once in meeting.

“Don’t make too many alterations to your camera angle,” he says. “Certain modifications might be necessary in response to environmental changes – such as room lights automatically turning on or off, increases in background or ambient noise, a presenter in your room needing to be in closeup – but on the whole, correcting and fine-tuning video settings can be distracting.”

Taking note of these basic points will ensure you have the best possible chance of having a successful virtual meeting. But as LifeSize’s Tracey concludes: “Don’t forget to measure financial and environmental savings from the offset – and indeed before purchase – to help justify your buying decision and measure the returns.”


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