Webcasting in Government: The New Indispensable Tool Maranda Gibson

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.

Communications Etiquette: Challenges of Changing Technology Maranda Gibson

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.

  1. Use Instant Messaging and text messages only for short requests or immediate responses.
  2. Use email sparingly and don't expect people to respond right away.
  3. Use the phone for building rapport or to discuss delicate matters
  4. 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.
  5. Do not use humor, sarcasm, or anything that might be considered flirtatious at work.  It might be misinterpreted and cause trouble.
  6. Do not use “emoticons” like smiley faces :) or frowny faces :( or other graphics in your emails, they make you look unprofessional.
  7. 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.
  8. Don't say anything in an email or digital communication that you would not want to have read out loud in a staff meeting.

Looking Up - Picture of the Week Maranda Gibson

Taken in Aspen Colorado on a hot air balloon trip.

How To Make Your Video Conferences More Productive Maranda Gibson

Video Conference

Conference calls have been around the business world for some time and are certainly nothing new. Quality web conferencing, however, has changed the context and purpose of the traditional conference call and by introducing new exciting features has enhanced its dimensions enormously as well as decreasing the entire cost of the process.

What exactly is video conferencing? The dictionary defines what is also known as a video teleconference as "a set of interactive telecommunication technologies which allow two or more locations to interact via two-way video and audio transmission simultaneously." It is also known as visual collaboration and is a type of groupware. Video conferencing can either happen between individuals or involve multiple locations scattered throughout the world. Apart from audio and visual transmissions, video conferencing can also be utilized to share documents and a wide range of computer-displayed information. What does this mean to the average business manager? Read on and learn.

The advantages provided by video conferencing are many. Modern technology makes it easy to meet with any client anywhere and at anytime, defying geographic boundaries. It's a way to qualify clients and candidates before meeting them in person, saving time, effort and money that might otherwise be spent on traveling, food, gas and accommodations. Video conferences serve to demonstrate products and services to clients many time zones away, and can provide a conduit for training employees in another country. Although video conferencing can never replace the in-person meeting, it can, via online collaborative tools, provide you and your business with unique ways in which to interact. Some of these tools include: document sharing and text-messaging.

The following tips will help you make your next videoconference session as productive as possible. While not everything may apply to every business, all will render positive results if used correctly.

Decide upon your space

The conference room is a factor that must be decided on before even considering which equipment will work best in it. Good video conferencing facilities will consider the effect of walls and echo problems. Square rooms, for this reason, should be avoided. Tiles and carpeting have different degrees of sound absorption, all of which must be considered.

There are many fancy setups for effective video conferencing, but sometimes the easiest and most obvious is also the most effective. A U-shaped table with the display and camera at the top of the U and participants sitting around is the best acoustical arrangement possible. Almost any conference room can be adapted for use as a video conferencing site by making adjustments based on the needs of the video and audio equipment to capture signals. A basic web camera is really all you need to get started.

Know how you will use your video conferencing system

Who are the users and what role will the system play in your particular scheme of things? Will it be for an occasional chitchat or for more formal face-to-face meetings between business executives? You may not need high-definition resolution and can possibly opt for the much cheaper web cam and instant messaging if you are going to use your videoconference system for infrequent casual chats.

Along the same lines, decide how many locations you will need to connect to simultaneously and if these locations are outside of your network's firewall. How tech-savvy are your users and what kind of equipment do they have? Will you be using your system collaboratively, with many parties communicating, or will you be watching one central presentation?

Consider extraneous factors that can affect the conference experience. You want to choose a location with a neutral background that contains as few moving distractions as possible. Avoid rooms with tinted or colored light and opt always for natural lighting. Place the camera above the monitor, a few feet away from participants.

Know how much you are willing to invest in your video conferencing system

Purchasing a system can be a very costly venture. Fully customized conference rooms can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, but lower-end desktop-based systems won't very likely put a big dent in your budget. You should also calculate the costs associated with the activities you are planning to replace or enhance with your new video conferencing system.

Make a short list of vendors

It's all part of doing your homework. Compile a list of those sellers who have systems that meet your needs. Run each system through a real-life test to see how it performs before you buy. Most vendors will permit a test-drive. Some things to look for might include:

* Call reliability:

How often are you disconnected in the middle of a conversation?

*Audio-video quality:

The quality of the sound and the consistency of the picture

*Ease of Use:

Is the user interface simple or complicated to navigate?

* Standards-based:

Can your system be easily connected with other systems?

What type of network will you use for your videoconferencing traffic?

By knowing which geographic areas your videoconference will be servicing, you can ensure beforehand that the digital network you have chosen as well as the required bandwidth is available in those specific areas where the parties you wish to connect to reside. IP networks are generally cheaper than the ISDN varieties and they are easier to secure.

Don't expect perfection the first time around

Even if you choose the simple "web cam" route for your video conferencing, there are almost always problems that occur because each client has a different and usually confusing user interface for its video feature. Non-technical users will need some help in figuring out the process and should not be expected to do so on their own.

Pay attention to the lighting

The speaker and the presentation must be in view. The speaker should avoid remaining in a dark area as, if that is the case, he or she will remain in silhouette for all of the conference participants. Also avoid area that is overly flooded with light.

Always maintain eye contact

As much as possible, look participants directly in the eye even if you have to do so from a web cam.

Speak clearly

Do not speak in a monotone voice. There is nothing more boring than listening to a voice without a single variance in its pitch. In Video conferences the audio can sometimes be garbled, and for this reason, it is very important to not chew on words.

Make your presentation as interesting as possible

Participants will quickly lose interest if you as a speaker, don't sustain it with well-prepared and coherent material.

Follow other speakers' presentations with respect

Give the next person your full attention. Do not yawn or fidget as these two actions translate directly into boredom and disinterest.

Check your computer settings before the conference begins

You might even want to attempt a mock session with a colleague to iron out whatever problems you might encounter. Can your colleague see and hear you? It's better to know this before the conference begins than during it!

The video conference is the way of the future for online interaction and communication. A child of the Information Age, it is growing by leaps and bounds as a convenient and effective tool for companies everywhere around the globe. It is being used more and more, not only by the corporate world, which already appreciates its many advantages, but also by homes, small businesses and universities.

Get on the bandwagon now and set up your first company videoconference. You will be amazed at the results!

Building Relationships: The Power of Audio, Web and Videoconferencing Maranda Gibson

Nothing is more important than the relationships a company builds with its customers and partners. To foster these relationships, larger companies sometimes have annual conferences where people from across the country come together to meet each other, catch up on new company products and services, and learn new ways to use the company’s system. These usually cost quite a bit of money for both the company and the participants.

 Although nothing beats a good physical face-to-face conference, just in terms of time and money it is not something that can be done more than once every year or two. And, getting together with key clients and partners only once every year or two to fill them in on what’s going on is just not sufficient to build a real relationship.

What some companies have decided to do is to still offer the once-a-year physical meeting, but to augment them with quarterly web meetings that are similar to their large conferences, but smaller in scope (50 to 75 people) and that target different market niches and that use audio and video tools to provide interaction between parties.

Due to the more intimate nature of the web meetings over the physical get together, this becomes a venue to find out how clients are actually using the product and its features and get them to share what they are doing and what they are finding out about it. It also proves to be a great vehicle to brainstorm and troubleshoot with clients about products under development; and provides a great way to find out what the client’s priorities are for new products, allowing the meeting convener to better prioritize product enhancements or new product releases.

Parenting from Distance: Staying in Touch via Video Conferencing Maranda Gibson

It is hard enough to be a good parent when you and your family live in the same house; but when you either have to be on the road a lot or live across the state, across the country, or around the world from your family or children it's even tougher. With the globalization of business and services, long-term, long-distance travel for some jobs is now a necessity. This has made it tough for some parents to stay as personally and emotionally in touch with their loved ones as they would like.

The mobility of the US workforce has also had a tremendous impact on grandparents, who now many times live far away from their grandchildren and who maybe get to see them once or at most twice a year, if that often.

To stay in touch with those you love, sometimes you have to get creative and one of the best ways to do that is to web conference with them. Seeing someone and how they react in a conversation and vice versa is a powerful tool for staying close and emotionally in touch. Seeing is also much more comforting and real for children than simple emails or letters and photographs.

Because video conferencing is so cheap and easy, compared to flying or driving long distances, you can also increase the amount of time you get to see your kids or grandkids, especially in those early years when they are growing up.

The cost of video conferencing and other modes of web-enabled video has dropped precipitously so this can be a viable option for those who want to stay in touch and maintain strong personal relationships with other people in their lives

Electric Clam - Picture of the Week Maranda Gibson

Here is one of our electric clams. Their name "electric" comes from the pulse of "electricity" (really it’s phosphorescence) which seems to blink on and off. You can see a little of it here near the mouth.

Scheduling Your Webinar: When is the Best Time? Maranda Gibson

Because webinars don't require people to go anywhere, there's a lot of flexibility in deciding when they can be scheduled. Most presenters have not adjusted to this brave new world of freedom or the kind of things they need to think about when scheduling their webinar. Sometimes the best time for a webinar is completely counter to when you think the best time for a face-to-face seminar should be held.

First, and this you would think is the most obvious, is to be sure you arrange your webinar so that it works with the time zone in which your attendees live.

Depending on whether you are looking for a national or international audience, you may need to think, about scheduling your webinar twice.

Believe it or not, industry surveys have found out that if you are targeting professionals, Mondays and Fridays generally have good attendance, not what you would think. But these are bad days if your target is the support staff.

Also summer months and holiday weeks, like the beginning of the week of Thanksgiving or the week between Christmas and New Year can work well, though scheduling can again depend on your target audience. For example if you are looking to attract express delivery people, anytime two months before Christmas is off limits.

Because other meetings usually begin and end on the hour, start your webinar at a quarter after the hour and end on the hour or an hour and a half later. This lets your attendees get back from their previous meeting and get ready and lets them finish your webinar before they have to get to their next meeting.

Try to avoid the lunch hour. The best times to consider are generally 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. because people are already at work, generally no matter how late their workday starts, and your webinar will be over before those who come in early have to go home.

HD Video Conferencing and World Peace: Helping Make It Happen Maranda Gibson

Last month, a historic event took place in the high-definition (HD) video conferencing facility on the University of Denver’s campus through their Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East. Here teenagers in Israeli, representing Arabs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims met with 25 Iraqi high school students who were visiting the University of Denver to hold a peace summit to explore barriers to peace in the region and how to overcome them.

The Iraqi students visiting Denver were part of the Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program sponsored by the US State Department and they met and talked directly with Israeli students who had convened at the AVCOM facilities in Tel Aviv.

The videoconference allowed these Middle Eastern youth to see the faces, hear the voices, and ask direct questions of their counterparts whom, under regular circumstances, they would never get a chance to meet or get to know as people.

The positive results of this meeting showed how the use of new communications technology can help break down barriers that have existed for decades, facilitate communication, and foster understanding.

The event showed that the creative application of new communications technology which allows people to meet on their own terms under non-threatening conditions breaks down communication barriers and allows conversations to take place that could never occur otherwise.

14 Ideas for Running a More Successful Virtual Business Maranda Gibson

Among the innumerable advantages afforded by modern technology is the ability to transform your home into an office even though the two boundaries can be and often are somewhat blurry. Still, there is something to be said for not having to deal with traffic jams, rush hours, punching clocks and the cozy plushier alternative of sitting in an office chair clad in pajamas and silly slippers. Not only that, in terms of your own virtual business, your hours and profit are all your own. But beware. That could mean that your shop is NEVER closed!

The freedom afforded by a virtual company is limitless, but so are the problems and pitfalls if you do not organize, prioritize and get off your butt so that you can eventually sit down on your butt. Unlike a conventional organization, those of the virtual variety have no shared physical space and no employees. An entirely different frame of mind and set of skills are required than those who work at a physical location. There are some specific issues to be addressed however, some emotional, some practical and others purely fiscal. Starting with the character traits that best lend themselves to running a virtual business, here are some tips to consider about how to make your virtual business a lucrative, satisfying, interesting and successful business venture.

  1. Be passionate about working from your home. If you do not live and breathe your particular product or service, you will eventually want to take it out to the backyard and kill it along with all your dreams for success on your own terms.
  2. Understand your motivations. Are you driven to work for yourself? Virtual work settings attract different people for different reasons. Make sure your reasons are clearly etched in your brain, as they will become part of your emotional mantra when the hard times come and help to propel you through them.
  3. If it is at all possible, maintain two separate computers in your home; one for work and one for your other life. This helps you to distinguish work from leisure in your own mind, which is one of the greatest challenges in maintaining a successful virtual business. Do not install instant messenger programs, chat room applets or computer games on your workstation computer; save those for your private time.
  4. If you are not determined to succeed, you probably will not make your concept for a successful virtual business work very well. There's an old saying that translates into something like: "Those who think they can usually do and those who think they can't, usually can't." The good news is that just like any other positive habit, determination is something that can be developed over time. Make up your mind to not let anything stand in your way to success and it won't.
  5. You will have to assume full responsibility for everything that succeeds or fails within your virtual business. When problems arise, you must solve them in the most responsible manner possible. Conversely, you get to take every single scrap of credit for jobs well done, making the virtual business unmatched in rendering a sense of pride and satisfaction.
  6. You must cultivate self-discipline and realize that if you only have to report to yourself, the work involved will not get done unless you go and do it. Distractions are everywhere even on your own website where pleasant things are only a click away from realization. Most people don't have this skill naturally, but rather learn how to acquire it over time. You too can be among them (and maybe even be the first on your block to do so).
  7. You must get organized, set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. As the head of your virtual business, you have the advantage of being able to create a flexible schedule for yourself that fits around the rest of your life. Whether your personal bio-rhythms call for you to work week-ends, evenings, early morning or all or some of the above, you must remember that your decided work schedule must be adhered to as strictly as possible. Be your own slave driver. In the end, it will all pay off.
  8. Select practical office furniture. You will spend a major part of every day in your office. Shop around and find the best computer, office chair, and equipment and supplies for your money and your needs. These items can be tax-deductible and are well worth their cost. They will serve you well. Buy the best you can afford and do not buy impulsively.
  9. Select the right spot in your home for your office. This is not only true for the achievement of that elusive concept known as optimum feng shui. It also pertains to a space where you can work UNDISTURBED for hours at a time. No distractions. This means, wives, husbands, children, pets, friends and relatives, well meaning and otherwise. 
  10. There must be a leader of the virtual business. No matter how many partners and participants, there must be one person in charge of all the operations of your virtual business. There is no underestimating the importance of a strong leadership from the corporation's very inception.
  11. All partners must be able to communicate with each other at all times. With so many remote locations, it is mandatory for all who share both profits and responsibility for the daily operations of a virtual business to remain "in the loop" so to speak about all events and decisions affecting the company. The two most effective ways to accomplish that are video conferencing and conference calls. The most current video-conferencing systems are very easy to use and they transmit pictures and audio of the best possible quality. It really is almost like being there.
  12. Despite the liabilities associated with video conferencing, namely the absence of eye contact and appearance consciousness, experts agree that it is a valuable tool for the day-to-day operations of the virtual business. As people become more accustomed to video conferencing as a means of communication, these issues will disappear. Now that personal video-conference systems based on a web cam, personal computer system, software compression and broadband Internet connectivity have become affordable commodities, video conferencing is available to many who otherwise would not have been able to afford it.
  13. The distribution of equity in a virtual business must be clearly established in writing and understood by all participants. With multiple partners, who does what and for how much should never be a matter of guesswork. There will always be those partners who are either "hunters or skimmers" in terms of working styles. Hunters make the kill and skimmers watch them. In a very lean organization, however, there is no room for skimmers. Everyone must pick up the slack and be a hunter. Still, each partner is entitled to whatever share of the equity has been agreed upon.
  14. The participants in your virtual business do not necessarily have to be friends, but they all have to be motivated by their common commitment to the corporation. They all must exhibit a personal compatibility in their dealings with the other members. Even remotely, one can become intimate with the help of hi-tech conference calls and video conferencing.

The statistics are a bit scary, although they are constantly changing as people learn what works for the virtual business and what doesn't. According to statistics, more than 90% of the people trying to earn a living online are failing. This is a hard fact and must be addressed realistically. The main reason for the failure seems to be the frame of mind that most entrepreneurs are in when they embark on this type of business venture.

Many have an unrealistic image of a glamorous freedom from cares and responsibilities all while money rakes in along side the enormous pool in the backyard of the mansion. Too many are dreamers without direction. But that doesn't have to be you. 

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