The use of video conference equipment and the ability to hold effective video conference meetings is a skill that is essential in many modern organisations. The video conference takes many different forms, from one to one calls using laptop technology, such as is available through Skype, through to multi center video presence technology with simulated boardrooms and multi camera, multi screen systems. However, regardless of the technology used, many of the same requirements are present for the meeting to be effective.
Video Conference Physical Environment
Key to any meeting is a comfortable and efficient environment, for a traditional meeting with all parties in one location this could be anything from a comfortable coffee shop to a dedicated meeting room. For a video conference though, each party needs to be somewhere where they can both see and hear the other party, as such, the lighting needs to be sufficient for clear vision, this can be either a good over head light or better some light directed toward the face of those on the video, just so long as the light is not too bright as to dazzle them.
Background to the speakers is also worth considering, some of the best backgrounds are those of an office wall, some of the worst are either a very bright window or an extremely cluttered wall or library. The bright window will have a tendency to turn the speakers into shadows and a cluttered background can be very distracting for the parties at the other end.
The layout of the room is also worth considering if there will be multiple participants in one space, seeing each participant clearly so that body language can be discerned is much better than having a long, thin meeting room where some of the participants are in the distance and others are close up and side on is less preferable to one where everyone is facing the camera in a curve or directly.
And of course the sound quality is essential for the meeting to work. On a typical one to one call using Skype or similar the sound quality will be set by the computers being used by the participants or the headsets if used, in a more bespoke set up the sound quality will depend on the quality of the installation, good microphones distributed such that all corners of the room can be heard along with speakers that are clear and effective enough for everyone in the room to hear all speech.
If the video meeting room is a dedicated one the issues such as background lighting and layout should hopefully have been addressed in the layout of the room, though this is not always the case.
Video Conference Participant Disengagement
Of course, the physical set up is only one part of running an effective video conference. Having engaged participants is more important than the technology, though is frequently given less consideration. For many people unfamiliar with video conferencing it can be quite a confronting and uncomfortable environment for the first period of the first meeting or even for a number of meetings until they become comfortable, as such, it can be good to give them the opportunity to become familiar with the technology before the start of an important meeting, perhaps by holding a couple of short internal training meetings for them.
Once the participants are in the video conference, maintaining their engagement is as important as a co-located meeting though can be harder, video conferences are typically less organic and more structured as far as the flow and control of speakers is concerned, this can lead to those not speaking or needing to be as attentive to the discussion becoming distracted and starting to disengage.
Those hosting the meeting should be looking out for signs of disengagement such as checking mobile phones, lack of visual engagement with the other speakers and working extensively on lap top computers, if this starts to happen and the individuals involved are key to that phase of the meeting, actively engaging them through asking direct questions can help pull them back into the meeting.
If regular disengagement from video conferences is noticed, it may be worth considering whether those individuals are actually needed in that meeting and, possibly, allowing them to physically leave the meeting if they are not actually required. This will allow them to return to other tasks and hopefully to be more engaged in meetings they are actually needed to participate in.
Strategies For Effective Video Conferences
Running effective video conferences requires all of the skills of running effective face to face meetings, active engagement of the participants, a clear plan for the meeting, with an agreed agenda if appropriate, timely attendance for those taking part and hopefully sensible outcomes from the meeting, however, video conferences typically have a few additional challenges.
Being technologically facilitated means that timely attendance is more important than for co-located meetings, often video conference facilities are in rooms which are heavily booked and as such the time window for the meeting can be short and restricted. Also, managing who speaks and when can be challenging in a video conference, requiring active management of who can speak when. This can bring challenges in multi cultural meetings where personnel from some cultures will dominate meetings and others will be more reserved and tend to have little opportunity to speak even though they may have highly important information to share. Again, actively managing the participation of these personnel from different cultures is critical to being effective.
Managing multi screen technology for video conference meetings can also bring challenges, having a presentation on a video conference system can mean that the live video screens are either minimised or hidden during the meeting, reducing the video meeting to a teleconference with the different challenges that teleconference brings.
To get the best value from your video conferences therefore requires planning, sensitivity and vigilance of those running the meeting and active participation of those attending, all in an environment of sensibly deployed technology. If this can be achieved effective video conferences can become a pleasurable and productive exercise for all involved.
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