How to Be Like The Jetsons

Growing up, my brother and I always watched the Jetsons.  It was set in 2062 and when I was seven, that was a really long time away, but now, in 2009, we're staring down the barrel of about 50 years.  Watching some old episodes this weekend brought back some memories and also made me think about how things have changed. Invention is often propelled by convenience, cost, and creativity. In 1991, a group of researchers wanted to save pointless trips to the coffee pot, so they set up a web cam that would broadcast the current status of the pot (and catch the person who didn't reload the machine after getting the last cup).

It was such a simple idea and look at where it's brought us. Web cameras are almost a staple of any office set up.  It's used for anything from having important seminars to being able to have a "face to face" conversation with a far off family member. It makes you think, where can it go from here? Is there anything that we could use video conferencing to achieve that we aren't doing yet?

Blink-182 is currently on a concert tour that is taking them all around the world and right into your living room, by offering a webcast. It made me think of the power of web conferencing to change the whole way things are done. Can you imagine never having to leave your house again to see your favorite band in concert? I am no stranger to the science fiction movies that show people in 3-D environments. Imagine embracing that technology 100% and the way it can change the world.

Imagine being a doctor and having to do a medical procedure you've never done before. Of course, as a medical professional, you want everything to go smoothly. Picture yourself video broadcasting the surgery live to the most world renowned brain/heart/knee/etc surgeon in the world and announce what you are doing it as you are doing it, thus letting you learn from the best. Apply skills like how you are holding the scalpel at the wrong angle, make adjustments that won't only help what you are doing right then, but for all future surgeries.

I usually hate going for the cliché but the possibilities are endless when it comes to the powers of conferencing. It's already reaching out and bringing families together as well as saving business' lots of cash on travel.

Where are you planning to implement video conferencing in your business? 

Accent Your Conference Calls

Conference calls, web conferences, video conferences… they make business so much easier, don't they?  And at their most basic, they are easy to setup and easy to run.  So if a no frills, simple conference call is easy, then does that mean a complex one is hard to do?

The answer is a quiet, dignified, "No."  Putting the extra touch and polish on a conference call is easy with a little forethought.  To get you started, here are a few ways to accent your next conference call:

Guest Moderator – Hiring an average speaker for a meeting or presentation can be costly; especially if they have to travel far to you.  With conference calls, travel isn't necessary.  And because a guest moderator only has to talk on the phone for an hour or so, their honorarium is much, much less.  Lower costs for you and less inconvenience for the guest means you are able to hire a much wider range of people including celebrities and industry superstars!

Why Not Add Video – Let's say you have two offices, one on each coast.  You're planning a meeting between them from their respective conference rooms, each circled round a speaker phone.  Obviously, you could make this happen with a simple phone call, but let"s improve on that.  Start a video conference, have a laptop and webcam at each table, and hook up the laptops to large monitors.  Now you don"t have two disembodied groups anymore.  Instead, your two offices are talking—and seeing who's doing the talking—as if they were just across the hall from each other.

PowerPoint Pizzazz – Among other things, web conferences have a singular feature going for them: you can put the contents of your entire laptop in front of any and all of your participants at the same time.  You can share a design—or video, website, graph, document—and they can study it as if it was on their computer… because it basically is.  Showing your participants something is much more powerful than telling them about it.  And that power is available in each and every web conference you do.

Enhancing Your Handshake

Face to Face

In a world this big, with so many of us living in it, there are a lot of people you will never meet.  And even though the internet has brought us all within a few clicks of each other, the amount of face-to-face meetings possible for us in our lives is finite and low. 

The good news is that getting to know someone, building trust and a relationship doesn't have to take place in person.  With a video conference, you can begin, develop, and maintain a relationship--especially a business relationship--that can be as good as meeting in person, or better yet, enhance your face-to-face experiences.

When you call up a new client or vendor, there's some "getting to know you" and some business.  You can hear the tone and inflection in their voice, and you can get a sense of the person by what they say and how they say it.  Still, how many times has someone been totally different from how you "pictured" them when you are finally able to meet in person?

A video conference opens up more streams of information when you meet someone.  Like getting together for coffee, you can hear their voice, see how they listen to you, and get a good feel for their personality.  No, you can't shake their hand, but you can still look them in the eye and know them.

Blogger Chris Brogan talks about the power of social media in connecting people and bringing them closer.  His example was communicating with a friend on Twitter, so that when they finally met in person, the "warm up stuff" was already covered and he felt he could easily talk to her.  The thing is, he'd been "talking" to her the whole time, just not face-to-face.

Like a sit-down over coffee, a video conference connects you with that client, that potential customer, or vendor, and builds a relationship as effective as if you had sprung for the lattes.  The proof is when you actually do sit down for coffee and there is already camaraderie, a bond.

But there are limitations to a face-to-face relationship.  How many lunches are there in a day?  How many times can someone leave the office to grab coffee?  Now, in a normal work day, how many opportunities are there to log in, call in, and meet with someone in a video conference?

Whether distance is an issue or not, time will always rule our capacity for relationship building.  But if you often use a video conference to connect with someone, when you do meet in person, it will seem like you had been face-to-face the whole time.

Personal Video Conferencing

On September 9, 2008, Andrew Wertz watched the birth of his son… from 7,000 miles away. The Marine Lance Cpl. was stationed in Iraq and when the time came, the non-profit charity organization, Freedom Calls, arranged for a video conference. The foundation also allows soldiers to attend weddings, graduations, parent/teacher conferences, and visit with dying relatives.

You probably use video conferencing for you business, but what about your personal life? It seems easier to just pick up the phone, or go visit, but what about when you are on a business trip? When was the last time you "saw" your mother?

Video conferencing doesn't have to be solely for business. You have friends and relatives that you don't see but once or twice a year, why not get them to join a video conference? It could be said that chatting more during the year will make for nothing to talk about at Christmas, but the opposite is true. When you connect year-round you discover more about your friends and relatives. This gives you more to talk about in person. And since you saw them on your computer screen, you know how they really feel about Cousin Jack's new hobby.

Think about it, how long do those "catching up" conversations really last? You can have more fulfilling and less superficial talks when the conversation begins with, "Hey, I thought about what you said last month…"

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Tech Crunch Spares Video Conferencing

Most of the blame of the credit crunch can be placed at the feet of sub-prime lenders and greedy bankers, but as we can see in an article in BusinessWeek we consumers may have a share as well. We embraced credit in its many forms and took on enormous amounts of debt; all so we could buy houses, cars, and tech to name a few.

Now as things become tight, we begin by buying less gadgets and the tech industry is beginning to feel the loss. Not to worry, things will balance out, the industry will be fine, and we will buy again. Maybe in preparation of those days, there have been a lot of telepresence communications commercials on TV recently. Talk about bad timing.

The equipment in the commercials is impressive: usually two or three huge flat-screens in fancy boardrooms – in large corporations or a national chain of upscale hotels – but talk about expensive. If tech spending is going down, where will that leave normal, medium to small businesses?

As a savvy business person, you most likely know about video conferencing already. Yes, it would be great to have floor-to-ceiling, perfect mimicry of realism in the conference room, but at what cost? Video conferencing can be good and functional with a fifty dollar webcam. You can look someone in the eye or smile with them. You can get things done without having to go there.

All in all, tech spending may go down while the economy adjusts and tech industries may feel a sting, but for the normal business, it's business as usual.

Video Conferencing Aids Police

Video conferencing is now being used by local police officers in Coos Bay and North Bend, Oregon.  Officers are now able to testify to the grand jury without having to leave their respective stations.  Before now, their police officers had to make a 25 minute drive each way to the Coquille Courthouse to provide their required testimony.  With the new Internet system, officers are able to view the grand jury from on-site interview rooms and the grand jury can view the officer via monitor in the courthouse.

The agency is now finding that the small investment of about $400 for the equipment required to run the program, will be a cost saving endeavor.  With gas prices continuing to rise and the cost of wear and tear to police vehicles, the costs associated with video conferencing will be recouped almost immediately.   

Currently, there are at least three officers per week that are called to the courthouse.  Each officer waits at least 1 ½ hours to testify in their trail.  With the new video conferencing system in place, officers will be able to complete work and other in-house tasks instead of wasting time waiting in a courthouse, thereby making them more productive.

In the near future, the District Attorney also plans on using the video conferencing system as well.  Very soon the agency will be having witnesses who are subpoenaed outside of the county or state, also use this new service.  The county will arrange for witnesses to go to a conference call site in their area and pipe in their testimony directly into the courthouse.  This will save the county the travel expenses for those witnesses.

Video Conferencing to Settle Internet Disputes

People are participating in business projects and buying and selling goods and services with other people who are located all over the world by way of the internet. Shoppers can often find great deals. However, let's say the owner of a website located in Asia refuses to give you a refund and the thought of spending a substantial amount of money and time flying to Asia to settle the issue in court or with a mediator seems a little silly since the item cost you twenty-five dollars.

Perhaps in the future it will be common place for websites to offer mediation to settle disputes with customers by way of video conferencing. Now the idea of solving the problem for low cost items and services with far away companies is more realistic.

Mediation experts claim that utilizing video conferencing for disputes can provide more effective emotional communications than the telephone. Also, the participants are less likely to be intimidated by the physical presence of the other person.

In the future, instead of shoppers sending numerous intimidating or nasty emails to website owners perhaps a video conference meeting where each person realizes the other is an actual human being and not just a writer of emails will help resolve issues.

Don’t Flinch or Cringe During a Video Conference Meeting

Due to robust bandwidth and technological improvements in high definition video and large screens, an applicant's facial expressions during a video teleconferencing job interview with a lawyer can eliminate him from contention for a prized job at a prominent law firm. A person's facial expressions during a web or video teleconference meeting may convince a lawyer he's guilty of a misdeed and he could be slapped with a life changing lawsuit. Lawyers are constantly monitoring facial expressions and body language; seeking information that people are not volunteering and defining their personality. With the upgrades in technology some lawyers have been convinced they will finally be able to notice every little facial movement during a web conference. People will also be life size on the big screen.

Motorola and Cisco utilized the high quality image technology in video teleconference meetings to interview and select their legal team for a Supreme Court Argument. Those who winced during the interview while being peppered with difficult questions probably wished they were using older technology.

With the impressive improvements in sound quality and clarity of the picture, the majority of lawyers might become enthusiastic about video teleconferencing for depositions. Law offices will be able to substantially reduce their travel costs and shrink their carbon output. Video teleconferencing may soon become a significant factor in the legal profession.

Watch Those Hands!

If you have set up a video conference to communicate with colleagues, clients, customers or students in another country, make sure you are not saying things you don't want to say. 

You may be very fluent in another language or your fellow video conference participants may be very fluent in English—but, it is still possible for your message to be lost because of confusing body language. As you know, non-verbal communication trumps verbal every time. Of course people are listening to you, but they are also taking in your gestures and movements at the same time and these resonate much more than do your actual words. No need to be stiff or unnatural, just consider your movements as you speak. 

It is easy to become impassioned while making your point and slip into a hand signal or gesture that is innocuous or innocent in one place, but offensive in another. It is likely that video conference participants will know that you made a gesture out of ignorance, but they will still feel its effect.  They won't blame you, but you will still have left them unsettled and that is not what you want to do. 

It is also possible to make a gesture that, while not offensive, could confuse those viewing the video conference because it means something different in their culture. Here are a few gestures to avoid: 

  • The thumbs up sign
  • The OK sign (making a circle with your thumb and forefinger)
  • Vigorously nodding the head

Use Video Conferencing to Show Students the World

See The World with video conferencing

Some students in New Jersey recently got a lot more out of their show and tell session than usual because they were having show and tell with a class in another country.

A classroom in the U.S. and a classroom in Taiwan were both outfitted with video cameras and television sets so that the students could have an international exchange. It is one thing to read about another country or see pictures of objects from that country…but it a completely different experience to actually see and interact with people in that country.

Setting up a video conference can help you take the classroom experience to new levels.

If your city has a sister city in another country or if your school has formed a relationship with another school, consider using video technology to take advantage of the partnership. Seeing it on a screen really is the next best thing to going there.

Perhaps your class has already made a trip to a foreign country. In that case, use a video conference for follow-up and to cement ties between your students and their new friends they made on their trip. There may have been some things your students were curious about, but unable to see during their stay. And surely you found that your hosts abroad had many questions for you. A video conference is a great way to keep the lines of communication flowing.