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.

Tips for Teachers Using Video Conferences to Instruct

Have a script handy
For an experienced teacher, this may not seem necessary, but really it is. Even if you are presenting a lesson that you know well and have taught many times, it is important to have some notes already written. Teaching by video conference is not the same as teaching in the classroom. The thought that your image is being beamed to people in a remote location may make you more nervous than you'd imagine. Whether you take a lecture-style approach or involve your class a lot, you feed off of listener reaction and participation. This is true no matter what the reaction is-even looks of boredom. When you are presenting a video conference you do not get that same type of instant feedback.

Give a shorter presentation
If you thought a student's attention span was short in a typical classroom setting, wait until you see how they fare during a video conference. Some will be fine, but others will get fidgety fast. If possible, do not spend the entire class time talking. Just as you would in any other class, give students time to do a group activity. Or let them swap and grade each others' papers while you go over the answers. Find a way to break the time up, so students are not looking at the screen the entire time.

Conference Call Protocol Tips

Today, twice as many companies are communicating via audio and video conferencing than five years ago. Between 2000 and 2006, a leading indicator of changes in the communications industry -- sales of conferencing equipment -- doubled from $2.84 billion to $4.33 billion. It seems more and more people are realizing how much they can benefit from conferencing. If you are one of these people, you should know that thorough organization and planning is required to ensure effective and productive communication. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth conference call:

  • Ask participants to identify themselves when speaking.
  • Provide participants with a conference agenda ahead of time and encourage discussion on weak agenda items.
  • Watch the clock. Keep the conference within the expected time parameters.
  • Allot time for questions. Designating a Q&A session at the end of the conference can help keep the meeting on track.
  • Close the call with a summary of items discussed, decisions made, and future action agreed upon.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting if you run out of time, but still have points to cover. Be considerate of the fact that your colleagues have allotted a set number of minutes to the conference call.
  • Follow-up the conference call with an email or letter reiterating major points, decisions made, and future assignments.
  • Thank all participants for their time and input.

A Video Conference Can Bring Characters to Life

During the holiday season, some schools beamed Santa into classrooms all the way from the North Pole via video conference. Students were excited to have the opportunity to actually speak with Santa and discuss their Christmas gift lists.

Besides asking about gifts, they also had all kinds of logistical questions to ask. For example, one child asked if the reindeer get sick. The video conference also gave them time to debate that age old question: Does Santa really exist.

But it wasn't all fun and games. In addition to the fun of Santa's video visit, the children got to practice their interviewing and critical thinking skills. Thinking and asking critical questions is an important part of any child's education.

The holidays are over, but if you are a teacher or instructor, you too can use video conference technology to enhance the classroom experience. Just think about it: if you are studying literature or a particular story, why not bring the characters to life? Sure you could bring someone into the classroom, but a video conference will allow the character to be interviewed in their own habitat or milieu.

Your students will be thrilled with the experience of preparing for and participating in a video press conference with Tom Sawyer, Jo from Little Women, or Peter Cottontail.

When to Schedule a Conference Call or Video Conference

Modern technology can make holding a conference call or video conference a breeze. But there's still a fair amount of work and organization involved in planning and holding an effective conference. Before you decide to invest your time (and money), you should examine your reasons for wanting to schedule a conference call or video conference. If your reason is listed below, you're on the right track.

  • You need the interaction of ideas and opinions to create a plan, program or fully realized concept.
  • You want to encourage a positive group dynamic or build team spirit.
  • You have only a short time to build consensus or reach an agreement.
  • You need to explain a complex subject or introduce a new concept or product.

You're wasting your time (and everyone else's) if your reason for holding a conference call or video conference is among the following:

  • All necessary participants cannot be available at the same time.
  • You or the other participants don't have time to properly prepare.
  • Participants cannot be available for the time required to properly discuss and consider the issue.
  • You have a simple message to deliver or question to answer.
  • You are imparting information that does not require discussion or an immediate response.

Body Language "Speaks" Volumes During Video Conference

If you and your staff are new to video conferencing, you might want to take a refresher course in the importance of proper body language. During a video conference, if your mouth is saying one thing but your body is saying something else, viewers are going to be confused about your message. The non-verbal cues we give and receive during a conversation can have a powerful impact on the message we take away from a meeting. It's important that your body language reinforces what you are saying during a video conference.

Here are a few tips for projecting good non-verbal cues and reading the body language of others:

  • Eye contact holds the listener's attention and expresses interest, sincerity and confidence.
  • Lack of eye contact implies dishonesty, furtiveness, discomfort or lack of confidence.
  • Smiling when you speak focuses attention on you. People respond positively to smiling faces. Smiling also decreases tension and projects friendliness, acceptance and cooperation.
  • A furrowed brow or frown indicates disagreement, tension, discomfort or confusion.
  • Relaxed arms and open palms suggest honesty, acceptance and a desire to negotiate.
  • Crossed arms or balled fists indicate disagreement, tension, refusal or anger.
  • Leaning forward signals concentration, interest, concern, acceptance and approval.
  • Leaning backward signals resistance, doubt, disinterest or dismissal.

Communicating with Foreign Customers or Colleagues

In an interesting experiment, an American university professor divided students into two groups. Both listened to the same lecture by a native speaker of English. Each group was shown a photograph of the purported speaker. The group that was shown a photo of an obviously American speaker exhibited greater comprehension of the material than the group which believed it was listening to a non-native speaker. Both listened to exactly the same speech delivered by the same individual.

Personal assumptions, cultural bias, gender, age or racial prejudices, education preconceptions, and power hierarchies – so many factors affect the way we perceive others. Even when we speak the same language, these biases can affect the way we hear and understand each other. In communicating with foreign customers or colleagues in a teleconference, the effort must be made to set aside our cultural differences to understand each other. Often cultural references and idioms get in the way of clear communication and repetitive efforts must be made to arrive at a shared understanding. Video conferencing can present additional challenges where body language and gestures common in one culture may give unanticipated offense in another.

Many companies that regularly do business in foreign countries have implemented cultural advisor services to assist their employees in putting the company's best foot forward. If your company does not offer such a service, you can find many country-specific websites that provide helpful advice on bridging the cultural gap by entering a search for foreign customs + business meeting. Proper advance preparation will ensure a smoother, more productive teleconference or video conference with your foreign counterparts.

Web or Video Conference: How to Know Which One You Want

Sometimes you need to get your team or group together for a meeting, but it is just impossible for everyone to get together in the same place at the same time. Because it is important to have everyone seeing the same thing at the same time, a teleconference just does not seem like the best vehicle for interaction. What do you do?

Well, pretty much, you have two choices: web conferencing or video conferencing. How do you know which one would be best? It can be confusing. There is overlap in capability because web conferencing can include video and you can share documents via video conferencing.

To decide, which one is best for you and your meeting, you have to ask two things: "What do I, and everyone else, need to see?" and "What is being emphasized, the content of a presentation or interactions between people?"

If the answer is "the presentation and its content", then you should be thinking "web conference". If you want, you could arrange a small pop-up window on the screen with a video of the speaker just to add a personal touch. If the answer is "personal interaction", then video conferencing is your communications vehicle of choice.

Web conferences are very good if you are making product demonstrations, analyzing reports/data or doing software training. Video conferences are better for board meetings, negotiations, interviews, or depositions.

Of the two, because video conferencing requires more technology and infrastructure, it is the more expensive option.

Use Video Conferencing to Build Consensus

Have you ever been away at a conference and heard a really dynamic speaker? Or have you had the opportunity to consult with someone on a business trip who really changed the way you saw your organization?

When you returned to the office you were probably enthused and excited about what you learned and did your best to pass it on to your colleagues. It is likely that some of them got it and some of them wanted to get it, but couldn't quite understand your excitement.
You may have walked away from a speech or workshop with a great understanding of the speaker's core content, but you may not be the best person to convey that message.

This is where teleconferencing comes into the picture. By using video conferencing technology, you can see to it that the message gets through loud and clear.

No more do you have to say:

"I really wish you could have been there."
"I tried to take really good notes."
"I tape recorded some of the sessions so you could listen to them."

With video conferencing you can have that great speaker interact with your entire department. That way, even staff that does not usually get to travel can still be informed. Your vision will be clearer once everyone has had the opportunity to benefit from meeting with the speaker as you did. It is easier to implement new ideas when everyone is on the same page.