When and Why to use Video Conferencing
June 24, 2008 @ 08:24 AM | By Brian Trampler & Sara O'Rourke

Video Conferencing In my first post, we talked about the basic technology of video conferencing and now that you’re more comfortable the idea, let’s talk about when and why to use it. These are 2 very important questions that you need to be able to address with your company executives so that they see the value of the equipment and justification for continued support of the investment.

• When to use

You should use video conferencing any time that a face to face meeting is important but travel is either too costly or puts you away from the office for too long. I’m regularly on a video conference in the AM Mountain Time talking with my counterparts in the UK during what is their afternoon. I can take feedback from that meeting, and turn around and deliver something to my Sydney AU team at my evening time. And I can see their reaction when I present on both sides to validate whatever project I’m working on. This is much more effective that an audio or web conference for seeing and feeling that reaction. It allows me to build up my virtual camaraderie with my counterparts without the need to be away from my wife and children, so I get to go home in the evening and cook on the grill for them. Good luck with that traveling to London or Sydney.

And, no matter what field you’re in you could have a need for video conferencing. Video Conferencing is the perfect way to hold meetings when you need to see your customer, counterpart, or client, conduct HR interviews with a candidate in order to see how they present without the added expense of flying them to your office. Legal firms can do virtual depositions and interviews with potential expert witnesses to gauge their ability to present their testimony. “Telemedicine” using video conferencing has been growing in the medical field to remotely interview patients, and with specialized video medical technology can even remotely diagnose patients in rural settings. The education field can use video conferencing to reach out to students that can’t travel to the university, or to add a virtual audience to their campus.

Why to use

Think about the time you’d able to save by staying in one spot but travelling the world virtually. If I was away from the office and on an airplane for bi-weekly meetings I’d accomplish much less and have to spread my work hours into my relaxation time in order to get it all done. Not convenient or compelling for me.

And I’m able to save the company money. In the past I was travelling about one week every month, at an average of $1500-$2500 per trip. So far this year due to being able to meet my customers virtually, I’ve travelled to only one trade show (that will change in 2 weeks as I’ll be attending InfoComm in Las Vegas, but that is only my second trip this year). I have not had to fly to meet with any customers wanting to learn about video conferencing. I’ve saved my company about $10,000 so far this year. I’ve been more productive, and I’m becoming a mean backyard grilling expert as well. And the travel savings have easily paid for the equipment I’m using daily.

All in all, the biggest benefit for me has been the time that I get to spend with my family as compared to travelling. It makes the job that I’m doing every day for InterCall much more enjoyable and less stressful. And the company gets to show some savings from the investment they made in me over the long term.

Brian_2 Brian Trampler is the Sr. Product Manager of Strategic Video Solutions & the "Video Conferencing" blogger. Throughout his 10 years in the conferencing industry, he has successfully launched numerous web, streaming, and video services.  Prior to making the jump to conferencing, Brian was involved in gymnastics both as a competitor and coach.  If you’re lucky, you might also find Brian performing musical theatre throughout the Denver metro area.

Web Conferencing Tips Part 2: During the Meeting
June 18, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Dan Uhlmeyer

In my first post, I talked about keeping it simple as a Web Conferencing beginner. I don't want you to overwhelm yourself with a long list of features you may not use very often if you are new to web conferencing.  But it may be time to pick up your game.   

I use InterCall Web Meeting every day and have to admit I do get comfortable with certain feature sets.  If you do the same, you could forget other functionality exists.  Even as a veteran of web conferencing, I like to revisit the feature list to find new ways to engage my audience.  Especially if you are running a recurring meeting, it may not be a bad idea to switch it up in order to keep folks paying attention. 

1.  Web Conference Meeting Agenda   

At this point, you have a plan and have settled on the features you are going to use during your meeting.   You've already provided your audience an agenda within your meeting invitation.   Now, get them engaged early - It is time to mesh the agenda with the features you plan to use while you're presenting.  I like to go through my agenda and tell the audience exactly what I plan to do for each agenda item.    I like to tell my participants exactly how I plan to manage the agenda, item by item. In doing so, I tell them what web conferencing feature will be leveraged.  This explains to your audience how they will be involved in the meeting and sets expectations for their participation from the beginning.

Meeting Agenda

  • Introductions - "Please take a look at the participant list. I will be going down the list in order and will un-mute your line when it is your turn to talk."
  • Meeting Objectives - "I will be sharing a Word document outlining the meeting objectives and will also modify this doc during the meeting based on other objectives you provide. I may promote you to a co-moderator so you can add or modify the doc yourselves."
  • Application Overview - "I will be giving you a sneak peak of our new online tracking tool. You've seen the PDF but this will give you your first real-time look at the features and benefits. At the completion of the demo, I will be sending out some polling questions during the Web Meeting to get your immediate feedback. We can provide this feedback to our vendor for possible enhancements."
  • Roundtable - "After the demonstration, we will have a roundtable discussion to cover general feedback. If we have time and if needed, I will pull up a whiteboard to collaborate on ideas."
  • Action Items "John, do you mind taking meeting notes with action items? I will take these notes and add them to my stored documents so you can download after the meeting."

2.  Meeting Execution

I should know better than to use sports analogies but I'm going to do it anyway.  Any professional quarterback can memorize a playbook and dictate each player's assignment in the huddle.  However, few can actually execute to a high degree of success once the huddle breaks and they are standing at the line of scrimmage with angry defenders waiting to take them down.  The quarterbacks that bring their "A" game to every practice and every drill will increase their chances for success. 

I highly recommend you do a dry run for any high profile meeting - go through the meeting flow, using the features you have picked out as if the audience was online with you.  Study the defense by anticipating questions that may be asked.  Have supporting reference docs handy that you can pull up real-time in anticipation of particular feedback or questions.  You will look like a star if you not only verbally respond but reinforce through visual aids.

3. Build Flexibility into your Plan

So you have come up with this elaborate plan to get your audience engaged but it doesn't seem to be working.  You can still hear background noise, there is little feedback and when you put someone on the spot, they respond with "could you repeat that question?" The fault no longer lies on your delivery. It may be that your audience needs to take a class in participant etiquette.

Things don't always go as planned, come armed with a secondary plan to get the results you are after.  At this point, get assertive - Un-mute all lines using the web tool, pass over application sharing rights to have a participant illustrate your point and start asking for answers name by name.  They will certainly come a little more focused the next time around.

Like I mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of tips out there on the web so I encourage you to educate yourself.   

Bye for now, I'm off to practice what I preach!

Dan_2 Dan Uhlmeyer is a Sr. Product Manager and the "Web Conferencing" blogger.  He has over eight years of product experience in Web Conferencing and currently manages InterCall Web Meeting, InterCall's proprietary unified communications tool.  When not punching on the keyboard, you can find Dan enjoying time with his wife and two children or running a marathon.

We’re off to InfoComm08 – see you in Vegas!
June 16, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Cambria Vaccaro

Infocomm08_2Take it from us.  Integrating audio and video into other technologies is no easy task.  We work at it all the time.  We also think we do a fine job, but no one does great things on their own.  This is why InterCall is exhibiting at InfoComm08, the tradeshow for InfoComm International, the leading non-profit association serving the professional AV communications industry.

It’s a give and take.  The members of InfoComm Intl exchange industry expertise and market research to enhance their audio and video services.  That’s a partnership that works for us.  Once a year, we all gather for our annual conference to share of best of what we’ve learned.  This year, our booth will focus a bit on the emergence of Unified Communications.  You’ll also be able to see a demonstration of our own InterCall Web Meeting!

We’re honored that we’ve been given a forum to speak at this  year’s sessions, too.  Our own Martha DeGraw,  Director of Product Management, will be exploring topics such as “web vs. video” and adoption of conferencing services across the enterprise.  Also on the schedule for this year is the IMCCA session which will center on Telepresence and classes by NSCA. For a full schedule of activities, click here.

Year after year, what we discover are new ways to make conferencing and collaboration services even easier for you to use.   InfoComm is a home for innovation.  We attend every conference so that we can bring back new ideas for products and services to help you get more done.

However, innovation doesn’t just happen at a conference.  The real trailblazers do it all year round.  We’d like to hear from you what solutions you’d like for us to bring back to you.  Let us know what features you’d like in conferencing and collaboration services.  Real or imagined, we want to know. We’ll work towards getting you what you want.  Because one day, there will be a company which will make it happen for you.  We’d like to be that company.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to providing updates on our experiences at InfoComm08!

Cam_2Cambria Vaccaro is Director of Marketing, Corporate Communications and our “Industry News” blogger.  Cambria has been in the conferencing industry for nearly fifteen years, and has seen it evolve from a traditional video bridging service to include cool web features and remote communication services.  She is an avid runner, cook, wife and mother of two gorgeous girls.

Web Conferencing Tips – Part 1: Before the Meeting
June 10, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Dan Uhlmeyer

When I’m on an audio conference call or web meeting, there is nothing more frustrating than hearing background conversations, keyboards pounding, instant messaging chimes or simply “dead air.”  It always makes me question my content and delivery style.  What would I be doing if this information was being presented to me this way?”

Multi-tasking avoidance is one small hurdle you need to overcome when leading virtual web meetings.  Sure, you can mute the person’s line but what is the point if they are not listening?  At the end of the day, people are going to multi-task if you don’t give them a reason to stay engaged.  I know this because I’m often guilty of it.  Heck, none of us would get our jobs done if we didn’t do a little multi-tasking.  However, you wouldn’t have invited these people to your meeting if you didn’t need their input, so you’ve got to make sure you can keep them tuned in.

Be the Engaging Teacher

I think back to a boring high school class where the teacher brought nothing to the table other than bold copy from the school issued text book.  This was the perfect time to doodle in spiral notebooks, stare out the window or cram for an exam in a completely different subject.  I didn’t need to pay attention to that particular teacher because the only requirement for acing this class was bold print memorization in the comforts of my own home. 

In my professional life, it is very likely my web conferencing participants are doing the same thing. They know I’m going to email the documents, meeting notes and maybe even a recording of the meeting after it ends.  So, why should they listen now when they have 150+ emails sitting in their inbox? 

1.  Ask Yourself ‘Will I show something worth looking at?

How do I know when to use an audio conference call and when to add web?  I’ve been in Web Conferencing for eight years and I am also the product manager for a Web Conferencing service.  So, pretty much every meeting is a Web Conference for me.  But if you have folks join the web – you need to show them more than a participant list!  If you don’t, folks will most certainly bring up other windows

So when should you enhance your audio conferencing with a web conference?  I say anytime your discussion is centered around:

  • Pre-existing content or documentation
  • Collaboration on a document, idea or concept
  • Desktop tool / online application review or demonstration
  • Future action items and take-ways

2.  Be Considerate When Scheduling

When at all possible, be a considerate scheduler.   Don’t expect an audience that is rushed or under pressure to be highly engaged or interactive.  I do not schedule outside the normal business hours of my participants without asking I’m always cognizant of time zone, individuals pre-existing meetings and lunch hours.   Even though many people eat at their desks these days, I try to avoid competing with food.

I also try to avoid scheduling meetings that would create “back to back” scheduled meetings for my participants. 
InterCall Web Meeting integrates with Outlook so you can easily check everyone’s calendar prior to sending out the invitation.

3.  Don’t be a Meeting Spammer

Yes, I also fear the “Why wasn’t I included in that meeting?” question. However, try to avoid inviting the world to your virtual meetings just because InterCall Web Meeting will allow up to 3000 participants.   Don’t get me wrong, there is a strong need for webinars and large presentations, and a ton of features to keep event participants engaged.  But if the goal of the meeting is collaboration and gathering feedback, lots of irrelevant bystanders may water down the effectiveness.  By the way, these flies on the wall are usually the ones creating all of the background noise. 

Also consider this - people may be less apt to participate in discussions with a larger group.  Spend some time figuring out who really needs to be there and schedule accordingly.  For those on the fence, you can provide the recording, meeting notes etc and schedule follow up discussions if necessary.  Everyone wins in this scenario.

4.  Plan Ahead

Sometimes it pays to be a “glass half empty” thinker, from a technical perspective.  Have a back up plan in the event your network or home office connection is down or your computer is not cooperating.  What would you do if you are unable to run the meeting from your laptop or PC?   Knowing the power of web conferencing, I would say reschedule.  If that is not an option, make sure you:   

Have an electronic copy of the documents you plan to share available for emailing. 
Send final docs to a colleague for them to forward on in the event your computer crashes 
If you are dealing with a new audience, send out a link to pre-install any needed software.  It is better to troubleshoot compatibility issues prior to the meeting versus at meeting time.  Many platforms, including InterCall Web Meeting,  offer a “light” client for participants that can not install software
Determine if there are service limitations prior to creating content for your meeting.  For instance, check to see how the service treats PowerPoint animation before you spend time creating a PowerPoint. 

This is more about keeping your audience engaged EARLY.  If you lose them in the beginning due to technical issues, it may be tough to recover. 

In my next post, I’ll delve into the actual meeting and how you to keep your audience engaged.  So, make sure you subscribe via RSS feed or email and please feel free to post or email your comments or questions to me – I’ll be happy to get you some answers!

Dan_2 Dan Uhlmeyer is a Sr. Product Manager and the "Web Conferencing" blogger.  He has over eight years of product experience in Web Conferencing and currently manages InterCall Web Meeting, InterCall’s proprietary unified communications tool.  When not punching on the keyboard, you can find Dan enjoying time with his wife and two children or running a marathon.

The UC Puzzle: Piece # 2 – UC & The Teleworker
June 3, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Ken Kurz

I telecommute, or “work from home,” about once a week these days.  I do this not because I get to pet the dog or forego a shower, but because it saves me time, increases my flexibility, and even helps save the planet in a small way.  I’m enabled in this because my tools at home are now every bit as capable as my tools in the office; in most cases they are the same exact tools. 

I “have UC”, whatever that means.  I no longer take phone calls on my desk phone.  Oh, I still have one in the office; although, these days, I’m not sure why.  It is permanently forwarded to a number that rings a soft phone on my laptop.  Why?  Because I don’t have to check four voice mail boxes to get your message.  I don’t have to record out of office messages any more.  My laptop is every bit as good a “phone” as the phone at my desk.  I can take your call just as I would in the office, even though I am in a hotel room or in my home office.

How does UCC play into this?  Here are some examples of things I expect from my communication tools, and that any Intercall customer can expect from their tools as well.  A UC Bill Of Rights, if you will.

• I expect to click a link in a meeting invite to get into a meeting using voice, video, and web.

• I expect to be able to do this 30 seconds before the meeting starts.

• I expect to be able to see who is attending the meeting (so I know which jokes not to tell).

• I expect to know who is speaking.

• I expect to be able to share content with everyone else

• I expect to be able to do most of these things when away from my desk in a place where voice is all that the network can handle. 

• Here’s one that some UC vendors have ignored: I expect to be able to use my conferencing subscription as a “meeting place” because it is accessible from anywhere on the planet with the lowest common denominator phone technology.

• I expect to meeting participants to be able to join my meeting from a desk phone, cell phone, satellite phone, VoIP phone, hard phone, soft phone, or home phone.

• I expect to be able to start a meeting whether I am physically in an office, coffee shop, airport lounge, hotel room, or taxi cab.

Five years ago this amount of telework would have been unthinkable for someone in my role.  I submit that five years from now companies will be seriously asking themselves “Why are we paying these high rents for fancy offices when 80% of our people can be every bit as productive from home?”  Personally, I will be very surprised if I even have a “traditional office” to commute to in 2013.  Will I still be driving 18 miles each way, spending 30 minutes driving and buying gas at $6 a gallon in 2013? No way.  Unified Communications (UC) and Unified Conferencing & Collaboration (UCC) in particular, are key enablers of this trend.

Warren_2 Warren Baxley is the Senior Director of Product Management & Development and the “Unified Communications and Collaboration” blogger. The holder of five patents in the conferencing industry including reservationless conferencing, Warren is building out InterCall’s global infrastructure for secure, reliable and rapid integration of new productivity solutions.

The UC Puzzle: Piece # 1 – Conferencing & Collaboration
June 2, 2008 @ 09:01 AM | By Ken Kurz

Many businesses and business people cannot afford, either in terms of dollars, in terms of focus, or in terms of information technology priority, to bite off the whole Unified Communications (UC) thing all at once, so let’s talk about grabbing big chunks of UC without a big budget or a big project.

To do that, I will focus on the ‘Conferencing and Collaboration’ piece of our UC definition for a minute.  Unified Conferencing and Collaboration, or UCC, is arguably the hardest part of UC because it is simultaneously real-time and multiparty in nature.  Each person has a slightly different combination of interface technology between them and the rest of the group, and each person’s representation of themselves to the group (be it voice, video, cartoon avatar, content, etc.) is conveyed by a slightly different mix of technologies that transport content.  These differences translate directly into complexity, and it is exactly this complexity that has made UCC service providers like InterCall as successful as they are.

I see UCC as the vanguard of UC because its delivery today often exemplifies the mix of hosted, managed, and premise-based enabling technologies of tomorrow’s unified world, and because UCC is available today in a very mature form.  It is quite common today to see web conferencing tools that are able to display audio participants in an integrated way and allow the audio experience to be controlled from the “meeting console” that is the web conferencing client application.  InterCall alone does this with more than a half dozen different web tools and has for some time.  For example, thousands of meetings occur every day using web conferencing hosted by WebEx, integrated with audio conferencing hosted by InterCall, and scheduled using Microsoft Outlook enabled by Exchange free/busy services hosted on the enterprise premise.  This diversity and interoperability of providers and delivery models is common in the UCC community today, and must continue to be supported as other UC pieces are layered on.

Now, and always, the communications buyer within the enterprise must be able to mash up services in this way.  UC solutions that require particular vendors or particular deployment models are insufficiently flexible to meet the UC or even UCC challenge in the real world.  There is only one company in the world today (to my knowledge) that is running Exchange 2007, Outlook 2007, Office 2007, OCS, and Vista.  That company happens to be a very important partner of InterCall’s, and I am by no means being critical of their strategy, but if all of these things are required to make a UC service work with all of the advertised functionality, then nobody’s experience will live up to their expectations for some time.  Fortunately, there are smart service providers which, along with their smart partners, are delivering big pieces of UC today using enabling technologies and tools that people already have.  You can “get” UC through UCC, and you can get it today as a service for which you do not have to spend big bucks or take big risks.

Warren_2 Warren Baxley is the Senior Director of Product Management & Development and the “Unified Conferencing and Collaboration” blogger. The holder of five patents in the conferencing industry including reservationless conferencing, Warren is building out InterCall’s global infrastructure for secure, reliable and rapid integration of new productivity solutions.

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