Anyone who has been a part of an audio conference call will understand some of the shortcomings that come along with it. How can we eliminate or mitigate these shortcomings and provide a richer communications experience?
In the corporate world, people meet to discuss a subject, contribute their knowledge and agree to actions or outcomes. When one or more of the meeting participants is not present in the meeting room, the remote participants have to conference into the meeting. If there is no meeting room and all participants are joining from their own location, then the meeting is considered a virtual meeting.
To conference into a meeting or to hold a virtual meeting there are four different conferencing technologies which can be combined to suit the purpose of the meeting – Audio, Web, Video and Interactive Whiteboard (IWB).
Let’s breakdown that statement before we move on to the conferencing technologies.
First, it is important to distinguish the difference between conferencing into a meeting that is being held in a physical place with live participants and establishing a virtual meeting where no participants are in the same place. The first scenario extends a physical meeting to remote participants and the conferencing technologies are used to bring the remote participants into the meeting; the second scenario is often referred to as a virtual meeting and in this case there is NO physical meeting, the technology is bringing ALL the participants together into a ‘virtual’ meeting room.
Secondly, the type of meeting is also important in determining which conferencing technologies are needed to support the meeting. I like to think of things as not Black or White, but in terms of a continuum or scale and label the extreme ends of the scale.
The “Type of Meeting” scale would have “Highly Controlled” on one side of the scale and “Highly Collaborative” on the other end of the scale. The kind of meetings you have in your room(s) will fall somewhere on that scale and should dictate what technologies you will have in the room to support the meeting type(s). For most corporate rooms you want to have some flexibility in the room to accommodate the different meeting types and only specialize if the room is dedicated to meetings that are at either end of the scale.
You now need to combine the four conferencing technologies in such away that you strike an optimal balance of benefit/capability and cost – an ROI. I am not going to discuss the ROI here, but check here for a blog article on that topic.
Each one of the four conferencing technologies brings a dimension of richness to a meeting and each one can vary significantly depending on how it is designed and implemented.
With all four conferencing technologies you can get started on a pretty thin budget, especially with tools like Skype available for anyone to use for free. But there are limits to what you can do with the free tools and when the free tools start to cost you organizational time to manage or reflect badly on the image of your company, it’s time to up your game.
Audio is the table stakes conferencing technology – if you don’t have sound you don’t have a conference. The other three conferencing technologies can be added to increase the ability to collaborate over distance for the participants. Or, to say it more elegantly, to increase the Velocity of Collaboration – a term I picked up from Frost & Sullivan.
Web, Video and Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) conferencing all add a different dimension of richness to the meeting, but from my experience IWB can enrich a meeting more than the other conferencing technologies because it allows participants to collaborate at a deeper level, elevating communication to a deeper conversation.
Interestingly, the high ROI meetings are the highly collaborative meetings. This is where your organization can realize productivity or strategic benefit. These types of meetings can be stifled by experiences where the technology gets in the way or the technology does not deliver an experience that is rich enough for participants to communicate in a truly conversational manner.
For more information on the four conferencing technologies and how to assess your current room(s) download our free Guide.