The Finer Points of Videoconferencing

Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 1999 Current Issue
March 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

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The Finer Points of Videoconferencing

How to guarantee a more successful interface

Every year, a growing number of corporations turn to videoconferencing to get more business done. In fact, according to M&C’s 1998 Meetings Market Report, more than a quarter of corporate planners (26 percent) are using the technology, up from 21 percent in 1996. Clearly, these on-screen meetings give new definitions to A/V requirements, room setup, speaker preparation and protocol. Here’s what planners should know.

Make sure the facility has experience and understands the many intricacies of videoconferencing, including connection speed, dial-up requirements and standards in communication links. There should be technicians on staff who can handle unexpected difficulties on the spot.

There are two kinds of services: point-to-point and multipoint transmissions. Point-to-point is the most common type of videoconferencing, in which only two sites are used. Multipoint calls frequently are used when companies want to bring a large number of people up to speed at the same time. They require a “bridge” or “MCU” (multipoint conferencing units) to connect three or more conference sites for simultaneous communications. Unlimited participants can join in at up to 50 sites.

Most videoconferences will not have the fine picture quality we see on televisions. For instance, when using ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) lines to carry the conference, the transmission is compressed with a quarter-second delay, which results in a slight delay of sound and picture. It’s noticeable at first, but participants quickly adapt. To minimize this, the connection can be made using more ISDN lines for faster transmission.

For this service, the room and equipment generally cost about $250 an hour per site. The transmission costs $40 to $1,000 per hour depending on the speed, distance between sites and quality of the transmission. The party who places the call pays the ISDN phone bill.

TV-quality satellite videoconferencing can be accomplished by bringing in a satellite dish. The video is not compressed as with ISDN lines, but the cost is much higher: approximately $1,400 per site and $900 per hour. Also, rainy weather can affect the transmission.

Before anyone gathers for the transmission, a number of details need to be worked out

  • Decide who needs to be seen and who needs to be heard.
  • Distribute documents to participants and/or other sites prior to the meeting so the camera can stay on the presenter, rather than papers.
  • Prepare graphs and charts on an 8.5" x 11" paper in landscape (horizontal) format, using at least 18- or 24-point fonts. A document camera can then project the graphics simultaneously to all sites.
  • Advise participants to avoid white shirts and blouses they make faces look washed out. Avoid fabric that sparkles or has a busy pattern, such as plaids or polka dots. Muted or contrasting colors (light blue shirt, dark blue jacket) look best. Avoid any jewelry that jingles even subtle noises can be distracting.
  • To prevent unflattering shadows on participants’ faces, draw the curtains and shut any blinds. If the room only has direct overhead light, seat everyone at a table covered with a white tablecloth to reflect the light evenly on faces.
  • Appoint a leader at each site who will operate the keypad, which moves the camera and activates the mute button. When someone is speaking, camera movements should be kept to a minimum.
    The following are some additional rules participants should obey.
  • All pagers and cell phones are turned off at the door. If necessary, the planner can arrange for phones to be answered and messages taken for the participants during the videoconference.
  • Raise a hand to ask a question or make a comment, rather than interrupt the speaker.
  • Speak naturally into the microphone while looking into the camera.
  • Avoid shuffling papers or tapping your fingers near the microphone.
  • Avoid side conversations. The mute button can be used to mask ambient noise.
  • Movements are exaggerated on camera and can become irritating. Sitting still sends a clear picture to the far end.
  • David Van Etten, CMP, is a partner with the Network Conference Center, which manages the Hayes Conference Center and Network Meeting Center at Techmart, both in Silicon Valley.

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