For years, futurists have foretold of a future where phone conversations will take place as face-to-face encounters. Personal video teleconference systems based on a webcam, personal computer system, software compression and broadband Internet connectivity have made this a reality.
However, as one conference veteran explained, You can find yourself in the odd position of being guinea pigs in an accidental social experiment. There are guidelines - a few simple hints and suggestions - that can create a successful videoconference and optimize its usefulness.
Three components make up the successful videoconference: technical knowledge, organization and professionalism, and common courtesy. Equipment does not run itself; even the user-friendliest equipment takes training.
As with any business meeting, preparation can make the difference between achieving the outcome you want and falling flat. And its very important to remember that a videoconference is still a personal interaction. Manners are noticed, and expected. Armed with the knowledge of what it takes to be successful in the VC world, you are now ready to check out the tricks of the trade.
Learn the equipment you will be using.
Get in the habit of pre-event testing. Thirty minutes before the conference is to begin, recheck your VCR, document camera, computer, etc.
Adjust your audio levels during the testing time prior to the conference, not after the conference begins.
Know your environment. Check the physical layout of the room for audio echo and appropriate backgrounds and lighting.
Make sure all conferencing sites understand the issues of open vs. muted microphones.
As a courtesy to participants, please inform them that the microphones may pick up private conversations made during the session.
Know how to troubleshoot glitches, or have the phone number on hand to contact someone who can.
Have a contingency plan and a sense of humor!
Getting Down to Business:
Determine the time and length of the conference.
Keep the meeting focused. Its easy to be intimidated or awed the first few times you see technology at work.
Prepare an agenda, set objectives, and prioritize just as you would for any meeting. Make sure all sites have whatever materials they need.
Identify yourself when speaking for the first time. Speak naturally in the direction of the microphone.
Encourage everyone to participate, and pause in your own speech occasionally.
Establish eye contact with the web camera. Look up every 5-10 seconds.
Speak a little louder and a little slower than you would in a conversation. Vary the volume and rate however; a monotone will quickly cause people to lose attention.
Be aware of the image you are projecting. Avoid faces and keep your hands relatively still.
Be on time.
Turn off cell phones. Cell phone signals may affect the conference audio.
Open by introducing all participants.
Remember that microphones are very sensitive and may pick up even quiet conversation or comments. Avoid coughing into microphones, drumming fingers, gum chewing or carrying on side conversations.
If you want to have a private conversation with a site, click on the appropriate microphone or speaker buttons.
Wait to ask a question or make a comment until you are reasonably sure that the person talking is done. Try listening for verbal clues and voice inflection.
When you join a conference, which has already begun, do not jump in and begin talking.
Wait until you are addressed or until there is a break in the conversation.
If you must leave, let others know. Do not just disconnect. Indicate you must leave either verbally or by typing a message.
Do not stay connected for hours unless invited to do so.
Repeat questions for the benefit of the other sites.
Always keep in mind that the videoconference is a business atmosphere. Appropriate language, questions and comments are a must.
Avoid wearing anything that would distract viewers attention from the message of the speaker.
Simple jewelry works best.
Try to avoid plaids, stripes and busy prints, since they are hard on the eyes of participants at the remote sites.