AccuConferenceAccuConference

Nov
16
2007
Establishing a Video Conferencing Tradition: Part II Maranda Gibson

As we stated in the previous blog.  Groups asked to use a new communications tool, like video conferencing, go through phases.  We have already discussed the first two: forming and storming.  It is at the "storming" stage that the most oversight has to be exerted to make video conferencing really work.  This can be done by having the most experienced members, or some designated individual(s) intensively model the behavior for others.  This might mean a lot of interaction with those using the system to see if they are having any problems and getting feedback on what is and what is not working for everyone to a more intensive schedule of video conferencing meetings to get people comfortable and make this style of communicating a familiar activity.

After a generally short, but intense "storming" phase, as people get used to the hardware and different style of interaction, as well as become more comfortable with their fellow desktop video-ers, the group enters the third "norming" stage.  At this point, all webcams are on and the stuffed animals are gone and people are interacting, for the most part, normally.

Then comes the best phase.  The performing stage, where groups and conversations begin to form spontaneously and ideas and the project and interactions really take off.

Keeping these four stages in mind, helps you understand that giving your people a new tool and then expecting them to run with it right away is unrealistic.  Knowing the phases of how adoption of new communications technology goes and your role in making it happen, however, lets you know that the initial confusion and chaos and displeasure that comes in the initiation stages are all a natural part of how people react to change, especially one involving something as important as how they relate to each other.

Nov
15
2007
Establishing a Video Conferencing Tradition: Part I Maranda Gibson

Remember that, like any change, people need time to adjust and build familiarity.  Just like getting a new project team up and running, companies or teams that go into heavy video conferencing mode go through the phases of "forming, storming, norming, and performing".

The first phase is where the team or group that is going to be using the technology decides that this is the technology they are going to use to do their communications.  Sometimes people aren't given that decision, though, and it is made by higher levels and they just have to live with it.  During this phase, you introduce all the participants to the technology, show them how to use it and try to eliminate some of the "fear factor" inherent when people use things by themselves for the first time.

The next phase, the "storming" phase, is one of discomfort and distrust.  Not only with the technology where they might not know exactly how to work everything or what to do when things go wrong, but also of the people on the other side of the transmission line, especially if they haven't worked closely with them before.  In this phase, sometimes people will not turn on the camera, saying they are having technical difficulties or will put a picture or stuffed animal in front of the camera instead of training it on them selves. This is due to the desire for some people to want to remain anonymous until they feel more comfortable with the process and people.  This can last a week or so, until people get more comfortable with the new mode of interacting.

Oct
29
2007
Create the Right Impression: Video conference Job Interviews Maranda Gibson

With the more distributed and global nature of modern business, more and more companies are moving to interviewing potential employees through video conferencing. The objective of the parties on both sides of the line are the same as if it were a face-to-face meeting: to hire the right person or to be hired.

If you are being interviewed via a video conference, here are some tips to help you do your best.

  1. Be sure to arrive well ahead of time so you can be briefed on the technology, get comfortable with the controls and surroundings, and set up the room or table the way you like it. Make sure you know where you can get technical assistance immediately if something happens to the reception or equipment during your interview. Minimize what you put on the table and keep whatever you do have there neat so you don’t distract the interviewer.
  2. Make sure you have the picture-in-picture option turned on so you can see how you look to the other person. It also helps you eliminate shadows that might fall on your face because of the lighting. If you see a shadow, you can generally make it go away by shifting your face or body slightly.
  3. Sit up straight, look alert and interested, and be sure to make eye contact with the interviewer. If you don’t, sometimes the camera will focus on another bright feature in the room.
  4. At the outset, ask the interviewer if their reception of your station is good and let them know immediately if there is any problem with you receiving them on your side.
  5. You will be asked the same type of questions as you would be at any other job interview, so be prepared. And be prepared to ask questions of your own as well.

Having a successful video conference job interview is more than just mastering the technical aspects of the videoconferencing venue. It is all about what you say and how you answer their questions. Knowing what the interviewer is going to ask is a big plus, because at your leisure, you can then plan what you want to say or highlight so when that question comes up, you are prepared instead of surprised or flustered as you furiously think of what to say.

There are plenty of websites now that list the most asked questions in interviews of all types. Just type "job interview questions" into any search engine and a legion of websites devoted to them will pop up. Many also have strategies on how to answer tough questions like "What are your weaknesses?" or, for people who were fired or who left a dysfunctional job situation, "Why did you leave your previous employment?".

There are not really any interview questions out there that have not already been asked a million times, and reading through a number of these websites and thinking of how you might answer some of them in light of your experiences and expertise, really helps build your confidence and comfort. Two things that are paramount to transmit in any interview situation.

Oct
26
2007
Choosing The Right Hardware For Video and Conference Calling Maranda Gibson

The conference calling equipment of today comes with almost too many options for the average business owner to choose from. It becomes so much more than just an issue of eliminating the nasty entanglement of wires. Sophisticated options for muting, recording and call inclusion are among a few of the special premiums offered. If your video conferences are not quite up to par because periodic static or fuzziness of picture interferes with their presentation, there is hope that these and other problems can be easily resolved or eliminated. Read on for some tips on what to look for when choosing the proper hardware for your video and conference calling.


Desktop Computers and the Internet

Although it would seem almost unnecessary to say it, some offices, particularly newer ones, are not fully equipped with desktop computers. You must invest in PCs for your staff if you plan to incorporate conference calls into your business protocol. You can actually calculate your net worth based on the quality of the computer technology you can afford.

Each employee should also have total Internet access, far beyond the ability to check email or download a joke of the day. The extra expense is worth it for the vast array of information and the ease and speed of communication that it provides for web conferencing.

Avoid low quality and Mobile Phones

With mobile phones, many variables can cause issues such as changing environments, wind noise (when talking outside) and background noise. Make sure you are using a solid land-line (cannot be had with a cordless phone).

There are a few cordless alternatives, however, should you prefer to go that route. Conference call cell phones shaped like a half star-fish can operate without the wall outlet and only need battery power. This might work well in a conference room, which lacks the floor telephone jack in the middle of the room, which does sometimes occur. A wired phone still might be a better way to go because of the problems with frequencies that often occur in many office buildings.

VOIP services have their pros and cons. Their lines use the Internet to transfer audio and because of the varying levels of speed involved, these lines can waver in voice quality. With VOIP, make sure to use *6 to mute extraneous noise.  VOIP costs less, especially in regard to long distance calls, which are offered at flat rates, and incoming calls can be automatically routed to a VOIP phone regardless of where the Internet connection is located. VOIP phones can also be integrated with other Internet services and a user can easily send or receive messages or data.

About headsets

For best results, use a headset with a quality microphone. A headset allows you to have both hands free, and when you use a standard model, in which the phone is held with your hand, it can cause variations in the volume due to the unstable position of the microphone and your mouth.

About microphones

Whether built into your PC or an external plug-in, you can't do without a microphone if you wish to communicate over the Internet. Spend a little more than the minimum because the cheaper ones will not eliminate static or provide for a clear conversation. Microphones provide that which there is no substitute for during a video conference; namely, the clear enhancement of voices picked up from other participants on the conference call.

About Webcams

A webcam is simply a camera that is connected to the Internet. This broad definition makes it difficult to determine which type will best suit your particular business needs. If your conference calls will be soley of a verbal nature, you won't need a webcam. Face-to-face-interaction however, should never be underestimated, as it permits the utilization of facial expressions and professional demeanor. A webcam will allow you to turn a computer-enabled meeting into a personalized one.

One of the biggest business mistakes made with webcams is that they aren't given the "marketing attention" they deserve. Often they are simply “thrown together by an astute computer employee who doesn't realize the economic power that a webcam can generate. Highly rated webcam sites are almost always capable of 5 frames per second or more. Consider investing some time and money to make your company webcam pay off for you.

Choosing the right hardware for your next videoconference can make all the difference between creating an effective business meeting and a disappointment. Choose wisely and spend some quality time in understanding all the options available. Don't buy impulsively even if you are under pressure due to a time frame or other factors. There are so many options available that there probably are several hardware solutions that would work for your company.

Just remember that the videoconference you save may well turn out to be your own!

Oct
11
2007
The Brave New World of Online Conferencing Maranda Gibson

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.

Oct
02
2007
Cutting Edge Technology with a Human Touch Maranda Gibson

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.

Sep
18
2007
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!

Sep
17
2007
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.

Sep
14
2007
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

Sep
10
2007
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.

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