One of the more common ways of supplying information to a large and distributed group of users is called a web conference or webinar for short. This is where people sit at their computer, which is connected to a host company through the Internet. The host then provides information via various audio visual formats. Even up to a few years ago, information generally traveled only one way. From the presented at the host company to the participants personal computers.
Today, webinars can be much more interactive and combined with teleconferencing with participants responding over their own telephones. They can include slide presentations, live video, or a whiteboard that allows annotations by the presenter and/or attendees, depending on the sophistication of the presentation and the capabilities of the host site. There can also be provisions for live text chatting, polls that let participants vote on issues, and sharing of documents or spreadsheets.
Webinars are generally billed one of two ways, as a fixed “cost per minute” or on a “per participant” basis. Either way, this is one of the least expensive means of presenting the same information, simultaneously, to a lot of people who are widely distributed. Webinars are becoming popular not only in the training field, but also in the financial and business sector in terms of reaching a broader spectrum of stockholders and investors.
Unlike a teleconference, a video conference let's people see you or you and your team sitting across a table from them and interact almost as naturally as you do in a face-to-face meeting. Just as in the world of teleconferencing, organization and planning is the backbone of a successful videoconference. Because of technical issues, there are also rules of etiquette similar in nature to those in conference calling, but different because of the added visual element in the video environment.
In addition to issues like wearing the appropriate clothes and accessories that we talked about in a previous blog which was related to video job interviewing, there are a number of other things that are particular to the videoconferencing environment. Abiding by these guidelines will make your video conference work as you hope it will.
- As for conference calling, make sure you have an agenda for the meeting, distribute it to the participants in advance, and then stick to it.
- Be sure to get to the video suite early and check all the equipment to make sure it is working well and that you know how to make it work of have technical help at hand to do so. What ever you do, don't be late.
- Your camera settings should focus as much as possible on the people in the room and minimize showing a large expanse of table or wall. At all cost avoid having ceiling lights included in the view.
- Clothes with simple styling in muted colors help the camera stay focused and don't distract your audience from your face, which is what you hope they will be watching.
So your starting up video conferencing at your company or university or non-profit organization and want to really know what you're in for and how to avoid the most common problems? Well go online and check out the video on the University of Washington TV's "How to" production video webpage. You can do this by going to "the video conference zone".
The video is a take off of the classic 60's television show "The Twilight Zone" and shows you, for real, what things that can, but shouldn't, happen in your video conference or distance learning class. It is really quite humorous and if you have ever video conferenced before or taken any distance learning classes, you will recognize some of the classic faux pas.
Of particular note are the great suggestions the moderator, a Rod Serling clone, has for video conferences in which there are multiple sites participating. One of the best is to have one moderator at each site who orchestrates that sites interactions and an "uber" moderator whose job is to be sure that all sites are cooperating and functioning so the video conference maximizes its return for all participants.
Even if you have done a lot of video conferencing, the "Zone" is definitely worth a look, even if just for the chuckle.
A good video conference is more than just knowing your equipment and making sure you are not wearing anything that will distract from your message. As in conference calls speech habits are important. Video, however, adds another important element. Motion and body language. These are also important to keep in mind so you project the image you want to send to the viewer.
- Speak clearly in a natural tone of voice and more a little more slowly than you might otherwise. Make sure there is a short pause between speakers because there is commonly an audio delay of about a second in transmission. As in teleconferencing, don’t let people interrupt or speak over one another and be sure to leave pauses between points to let people at the other sites speak up and express themselves.
- As for conference calling, keep all side conversations to a minimum. Concentrate on what people are saying at the other sites. Since they can see you, it is all the more important to show your respect by paying them your undivided attention.
- Be careful of where you put the phone. Do not place it near papers that might be shuffled or where other extraneous sounds might get picked up. In this regard. If you have a habit of tapping your pen on the table or drumming your fingers to release nervous energy, please remember the microphone will pick this up, and concentrate on trying to keep them still.
- Similarly, try to minimize body movements. Swaying or rocking or any other repeated movements or large gestures are distracting to people on the receiving end of the video and you don’t want your physical behaviors to be the topic of water color conversations on the other coast once your video conference is over.
Frequently, our office orders in lunch when we have a large event, celebrating a birthday – or frankly because we want to. We tend to use the eateries nearby, promoting community support to the locals. One of our favorites is Baker Bros. Deli. Today, was one of those days we ordered in lunch.
Our lunch was picked up by a staff member and upon him arriving back & distributing the food, it was discovered we were missing salad dressing for all the salads ordered. Who likes eating a salad without dressing? Moreover, who had the extra time to go back downstairs, into their car, drive over to Bakers and get dressing and come all the way back? No one.
No sooner was it discovered that we were missing the salad dressing, than our office door opened and in walked Mike a Baker Bros. employee with all the missing dressings. Were we surprised? You bet! They could have said "oh well" and left it at that, but no – they delivered individual, hand-poured sides of dressing for all the salads we ordered. And during their most busy time of the day – lunch hour.
Going above & beyond the call of duty is good customer service. Delivering something which could be deemed as insignificant as salad dressing to a patron – that is GREAT customer service!
Baker Bros. hasn’t seen the last of us. In fact, we just might be on a first name basis with the employees before long!
Baker Bros Deli
FORT WORTH: CAMP BOWIE BLVD. (Village at Camp Bowie)
6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Suite 244
Fort Worth, TX 76116
When you can't meet someone face-to-face because of time pressures or just because it makes economic sense, a video conference is the next best thing. This lets you see the other person and let's them see you. There's a lot to be gained in person-to-person interactions where you can pick up a lot of subtle non-verbal clues as to how the other person is receiving or reacting to your message.
Being shown on video, however, is not just like being there in the room, so you have to be a bit more aware of how you present yourself and what you wear than you might be if you were sitting down with someone in person. You don't want anything, not your hair, not your clothes, not the room, not the technical aspects of the system, or any other number of things to distract the people on the other side of the transmission line from your message.
One of the easiest things to control is what you wear. Believe it or not, this does make a difference. Some colors and patterns just do not work well in the video environment. For example, for men striped or patterned shirts sometimes do not display well on remote sites, white shirts also can be a problem because of glare. Light blue or pastel shirts work best. For the same reason women should not wear white or bold highly patterned dresses, tops, or jackets. Red and black can also be problematic in transmission. Solid colors or pastels are the best.
For women, watch your jewelry, especially if it is shiny or dangles. You don't want anything to brush against the microphone or tabletop or cause feedback during the call. And you don't want to wear anything that would be distracting due to its own motion. For men, silver tie clips can also reflect light and become a visual annoyance. Tinted glasses are also a no-no because they mask your eyes and cover part of your face, the open appearance of which is an important part of the visual experience.
Try these icebreakers out on your next conference call by setting up your next call with AccuConference.
As noted previously, it's one thing to talk about ice breakers in theory and quite another to think of them in practice. For most meetings in a business setting in which participants are professionals, ice breakers that require actions not normally associated with day-to-day behaviors in the office generally make people uncomfortable. Successful ice breakers for these groups generally consist of clustering people around a round table, if you have access to any, and having them share memorable information with each other, finding innovative ways to get them to introduce themselves to each other, or having them collectively work on a problem where everyone has to contribute.
Below are some of the most successful ice breakers we known.
- Fact or Fiction: Have everyone at the table write down three surprising things about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is made up. Each person, in turn, reads their list and then the rest of the group votes on which "fact" they feel is the "false" one. If the table does not correctly pick a person's made up "fact", then that person wins. A table can have more than one winner. If you have more than one table full of people, have a competition between the tables and have each table decide which of their "winners" they want to use to compete in the "finals". The selected finalists get up and present their "facts" to the whole group and each table, but the one the winner is from, has one vote to decide which of the "facts" is false. At the end, the whole group votes on which of the "winners" of the final round, had the most deceiving "fact". This helps people get to know and remember their colleagues.
- Same/Different: Divide the group into teams of 3 or 4 and give them a large sheet of paper and give each person a different colored marker. Have each person draw a large oval such that each oval overlaps with the other ovals in the center of the piece of paper. Give the group, or groups if there is more than one cluster, a theme that pertains to the meeting objectives. Tell people they have to write down at least five or more entries in the non-overlapping and mutually overlapping areas of their ovals. Give them five minutes, no more than that, to talk about their similarities and differences and write them in their ovals. If there is more than one group, compare results and identify common themes in both parts of the diagram and what light these similarities and differences shed on the purpose of the meeting. This helps team members develop an understanding of shared objectives and understand in a non-confrontational way how their views differ from others on the team.
- Brainstorm!: Break the group into teams of four or five. Give them a topic. Pick one that is fun and simple like, "What would you take on a trip to the jungle?" or "List things that are blue"). Give your teams 2 minutes, no more, and tell them "This is a contest and the team with the most items on their list wins." Tell the teams to write down as many things as they can and not to discuss anything, just list things. At the end of time, the team with the most items on their list wins! This helps people to share ideas without fearing what other people will think.
- Free Association: The object of this ice breaker is to have small groups or the team generate as many words or phrases as they can that are related to a particular topic that relates to the objective of your meeting. Give the group(s) a key word you want them to associate and then give them 2 minutes to list, as quickly as possible, as many words or thoughts that pop into their heads. For example, if your company is trying to decide on whether to reduce travel and increase the use of teleconferencing, you might use the word "teleconferencing" and have people list as many words/phrases as they can that they associate with the word. For example they might say: "saves money", "saves time", "impersonal", "need to see other people", "get distracted", "sound quality"…. This reveals what people are thinking, similarities in viewpoints, and possible problem areas/topics that need addressing or discussion.
- Nametags: Prepare nametags for each person and put them in a box. As people walk into the room, each person picks a nametag (not their own). When everyone is present, participants are told to find the person whose nametag they drew and introduce themselves and say a few interesting things about them. When everyone has their own nametag, they introduce the person whose nametag they were initially given. This helps people get to know and remember each other.
- Desert Island: Group people in teams of 5 or 6 and tell them they will be marooned on a desert island and give them 30 seconds to list all the things they think they want to take and each person has to contribute at least 3 things. At the end of the time, tell the teams they can only take three things. Have the person who suggested each item tell why they suggested it and defend why it should be chosen. This helps the team learn about how each of them thinks, get to know each other's values, and how they solve problems.
Good ice breakers not only get people to feel comfortable talking with one another they also get people familiar with what the meeting is all about and what it hopes to achieve. Ice breakers, if done right, reduce tension, fear, and discomfort. They get people more engaged, helping them contribute more effectively. A good ice breaker almost always leads to a more successful meeting.
You have to be careful though, not every meeting needs an ice breaker. And, if an ice breaker is not appropriately planned and tailored to its specific audience and goal, you can end up with an "ice breaker gone bad". This is a disaster. Bad ice breakers waste precious time and can embarrass you and meeting participants, intensifying the very thing you’re trying to overcome.
To avoid "bad icebreaking", design your "breaker" to focus on the goals of your event and on getting people to focus on and talk about their similarities, not their differences. Keep it simple and make sure what you have planned is something all participants will be comfortable with. Make sure that what you do creates a level playing field for sharing ideas, especially when you bring together people of different pay grades and/or status.
After you have designed your ice breaker, reflect on it and review it carefully. Ask yourself how you think each person will react and if they will feel comfortable. If you feel anyone might be uncomfortable, try another idea.
At a loss to know what to do or just don't have that "party planner" mentality? Anyone can come up with a great and appropriate icebreaker.
How? There is no end to ideas on the Internet for ice breakers that will suit whatever group you need to get interacting. Just type in "meeting+icebreakers" on any Internet search engine and a host of sites with many great (and not so great – so keep in mind your audience and meeting objectives) will come up.
Having an active conversation where everyone weighs in is crucial to having a good meeting or brainstorming session, solving a problem, or just getting things done. This generally isn't too hard when participants have to talk with people they already know and are already comfortable talking to. It's something else again to get a good give-and-take going when you need to get people who are strangers together or who generally don't talk shop with one another because of their different job status.
Fortunately people who regularly face this problem have come up with some clever ways to help overcome these hurdles and get everyone talking as equals. These are called "ice breakers". A good ice breaker should be fun, but not take up a lot of time. And, most importantly, it should be specifically targeted at the "ice" you need to break.
"Ice" can come from any number of sources. It may be people at the same relative level and mindset that just haven't met each other yet. It may be because you have people of different cultures, backgrounds, or view points. It may be that you're mixing people from different pay grades and levels of responsibility or that have different perceptions about each other.
To have a successful ice breaker, look at the "ice" and then look at the goal of your meeting. Now assess what part of the ice you need to break in order to maximize the results of what has to get done. Focus the ice breaker on that. You can't, and shouldn't try to overcome every possible obstacle or type of "ice" that might exist between participants, just the one most likely to hamper you meeting from achieving its objectives.
We'll talk about effective ice breakers next.
The world of virtual conferencing is changing and I have seen the future! Just as email radically changed how businesses and people communicate, virtual conferencing is going to revolutionize the conferencing industry. You can see the embryonic stages of this if you go to Second Life on the Internet and log on.
Second Life is a virtual world created by Linden Research where people create digital entities, also known as avatars, that interact in real time by voice, if you have a microphone, or via keyboarding if you don't. Since it went online in 2003, more than a million users have joined and the number is growing dramatically each year.
It is a place where you can own property, create a business, start your own radio station, earn real money, and…… hold meetings and seminars. In fact there are hundreds of groups from 12-steppers to government agencies to businesses like Toyota and IBM that are opening up shop and holding meetings and information sessions there now.
Although manipulating an avatar takes still takes some getting used to, so it is not something that will be in the conferencing mainstream for some time yet. Because you can move freely though the virtual world as you talk with the other people in your conversation, this exciting new technology promises to fill the gap between the static videoconferencing environment and the face-to-face meeting or site visit.