Free, downloadable videoconferencing programs from several online providers just simply don't provide the quality and reliability that businesses need to function in today's high tech environment. With these free applications, depending on the software, up to 6 people can join the conversation. However, the more people, the more the quality of the transmission deteriorates via audio delay. Using them can be fun for personal use, but they are not good matches for the workplace.
For businesses a loss of quality or lack of reliability when using a free teleconferencing or web conferencing application can be a real problem. This is why professional fully featured teleconferencing tools are the top choice for mainstream business use. Nothing turns a prospect off faster than setting un an online conference with a free application and then having your client have a difficulty using it; thereby losing precious selling and online “face time” that you need to clinch a deal.
Leave the free applications for grandma and grandpa to keep tabs on growing children, and family member to keep in touch, but use the professional teleconferencing and web conferencing tools for the business world where you just can't take a chance in making a poor first impression.
Not only does video conferencing open up a brave new world of possibilities of staying in touch with clients and prospects, but provides high tech resources using robust featured technology that improves your productivity, keeps track of meeting notes for you, and speeds your online meeting follow-ups.
So you've decided to host a webinar. What can you do to maximize enrollment and to make it an experience that your participants will want to repeat? First and foremost, be sure you research your hosting vendor carefully because not all are created equal. You want to look for someone who has a system that can work with a variety of operating systems, who is reliable, provides scalable service, and that is customer service oriented. Look for those that have application sharing, polling, and chat and recording features. These give you added flexibility in planning your event.
A second thing to seriously consider is using a meeting consultant. Good companies will provide this as part of their service. These consultants will help instruct you about best practices and will train you to carry out a successful webinar. Many times they will also be present during the event to help with anything that might come up.
Lastly, be sure the content of your webinar is top notch. You have to offer, and deliver, something that is more than just generally knowledge for a participant to get really fired up. Adding someone or a company that has broad name recognition can really boost your attendance. Whatever you do, keep the slides simple and leave plenty of white space so if people print them out, they have room to write in your words of wisdom.
There is a lot of talk these days about how people should be doing more conference calling to save money. We all know, however, that there are some things you just can't do or information you just can't get in a conference call that you can in a face-to-face meeting. Below are some considerations to think about when deciding on whether you really need a face-to-face or whether a conference call or videoconference will do.
- Consider the purpose of getting these people together and what you hope to achieve.
- Examine all your communication options and whether a conference call is the best way to get what you need to have a successful meeting. Maybe what needs to be done can just be done by email or in an email chat room? Ask yourself, does it really need a fully facilitated meeting? Does the meeting goal depend on observing body language or high levels of personal interaction, trust, and relationship building?
- How many people will be involved? Remember that if you have 12 people involved, each person only has, on average, 5 minutes to speak. Don't engage people if they are not going to participate.
- How highly dependent is the content on visual images that you need to walk your participants through. Will it be detrimental if they can't see what is going on?
- If you have a highly distributed group you are getting together, what will be the effect of different time zones on people being able to be there and alert. This is an increasingly more important consideration as more businesses go global.
Once you know the answers to these questions, you can then determine whether it is a plain vanilla teleconferencing that is needed, or a video conference, or a real face-to-face meeting.
Fifteen years ago video conferencing was in its infancy. Despite the semi static transmissions and multi-second delays in audio, it was still a great liberator that provided tremendous convenience and cost-containment for training, sales meetings, inter-office meetings, and more. Teleconferencing has since come into its own, and is so now so cost effective and easy to use that it has moved from workplace to family applications.
Long distance phone charges were a big hurdle for military families as recently as the mid 1990s when sailors were deployed at sea for 6 to 12 months. Security was a paramount concern. Batch transmissions of email messages were a ‘hot’ innovation before the Internet made secure transmissions possible.
Today most soldiers enjoy the benefits of regular communications with their families via phone and email. This lessens the separation anxiety. But it is still hard, especially for young children who don’t see their deployed mom or dad for six to 12 months at a time.
As an illustration of how far we’ve come, recently 50 soldiers from the 108th Air Refueling Wing departed McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey on September 15, 2007 with donated video conferencing equipment. This equipment enables them to chronicle their experiences and stay in touch with their families in high touch, high tech way. That really is the beauty of video capabilities. The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words rings true today more than ever.
We hope that other businesses around the country will donate video equipment to local military units so they can visually keep in touch and feel that human connection.
Because distance learning and teleconferencing and videoconferencing are becoming so commonplace these days, and because people find it harder to foster the kinds of interactions they get when they are face-to-face, university researchers are looking into the dynamics of online interpersonal interactions in team working environments to see if they can understand what is going on and make the experience more effective.
Brian Hoyt an Ohio University professor studied how teams interact in the online environment and found out there are four distinct and progressive stages of interactions: socialization, presentation, interaction, and closure. In his study, he found out that the initial socialization stage was incredibly important and should never be skipped. What he also found out was that people running the online teams generally wanted to skip this stage and plunge right into the meeting content. This is a mistake!
It is crucial to have introductions, have people express their interest or expectations, and perhaps even participate in an icebreaker before beginning. This is not wasted time, as some might think. Hoyt and his colleagues found out that when the socialization stage was present, participants were more engaged and the chat and work sessions were more dynamic then when it was skipped.
So keep that in mind when trying to build a team from a dispersed group of people, err on the side of socialization, at least initially. Your team will be more productive and more energized if you let a little personality get through.
To give people living in New York more access to their government and governing processes, earlier this year, Eliot Spitzer, the Governor of New York issued an executive order requiring all state agencies, public authorities, boards, and departments to broadcast their meetings on the Internet by July. Although not on quite such a grand scale, many small municipalities are adopting webcasting as a way to reach out to those they serve by webcasting legislative meetings and making archived, key word searchable copies of them available on the Web so people can assess them at their leisure.
What some cities have found is this allows more community and media knowledge of what is going on and saves time and money by no longer having to have staff make and mail out CDs of the meetings for those who request them.
Communities that have initiated webcasting, like Hesperia, California have found that with their webcasting that fewer people are coming to meetings, but the number of people viewing the proceedings, both in the live webcast, as well as those archived has gone way up. It is easy to see why. If you have ever been to a county board meeting, wanting to hear or talk about one of the topics on the agenda, many times you have to sit through hours of discussion on other topics before the one of interest to you comes up. Provided the archived webcasts have key word search capabilities, a viewer can connect only to the part of the meeting or the topic they are interested in.
Webcasting of legislative or other government meetings are generating a lot of interest and use in rural communities and states where there is no universal cable TV coverage and where people have to travel long distances to see what their government is up to.
Beware of the communications faux pas that occur when a new technology or form of communication takes hold and goes mainstream in the business world. Sometimes things that were accepted when the new form was being developed and moved forward, which generally happens in a more casual atmosphere, don't work when the tool becomes common in use in more formal settings.
Let's use text messaging as an example. Some of the common text abbreviations like LOL (which could mean "laugh out loud” or “lots of love") just don't work, and could be considered offensive, in a business setting. The classic example is to never say anything in text message or email for that matter that you would not say to someone's face, whether it is the person you are emailing or the person who you are talking about in the email. This is because emails are a written record with your byline attached to them. These notes can be sent or forwarded purposefully or by mistake to others whom you might not want to know what you think about them.
Below are some good general rules for e-communication etiquette in the office.
- Use Instant Messaging and text messages only for short requests or immediate responses.
- Use email sparingly and don't expect people to respond right away.
- Use the phone for building rapport or to discuss delicate matters
- If you are going on travel and cannot be reached, leave phone and email answering messages that note this to anyone who might try to contact you.
- Do not use humor, sarcasm, or anything that might be considered flirtatious at work. It might be misinterpreted and cause trouble.
- Do not use “emoticons” like smiley faces :) or frowny faces :( or other graphics in your emails, they make you look unprofessional.
- Keep a record of important decisions reached over the phone or via IM and print out a copy and file any important emails or messages.
- Don't say anything in an email or digital communication that you would not want to have read out loud in a staff meeting.
Taken in Aspen Colorado on a hot air balloon trip.