If you feel interested in but overwhelmed by new communications options, obligated to use them but not sure why or when, or burdened by a boss who insists that no new technology tools could possibly replace the solid handshake, you might be interested in these suggestions for distinguishing the simply new from the truly useful.

When should I…

Audio Conference?
A fancy name for telephone calls that include more than two people, audio conferencing saves time and money. Use conference calls to:

discuss an issue when the participants know each other

follow up on documents previously shared (by mail or e-mail)

include a remote participant in a meeting

But if you’re in a group of more than three people, watch for these trouble spots:

speakers need to identify themselves before speaking

some participants might get distracted from the call. In extreme cases, someone might simply walk away from the phone.

Data Conference?
With data conferencing, you electronically share applications and/or files with people in other locations. Everyone sees the same document at the same time and instantly views any changes anyone makes. This immediacy works well when you want to:

give a presentation (i.e., PowerPoint)

brainstorm – write notes on an interactive whiteboard. All your participants see the same material and can add, move or change material as easily as if they were in the same room.

keep meeting participants focused on a subject

Data conferencing is useful for sharing and working on detailed information (projections, budgets, diagrams) and visuals (graphics, architectural designs). While you can also use e-mail to transmit documents like these, use data and audio conferencing instead when you:

have a time constraint and need input right away

require collaborative input from several people and don’t want to consolidate changes from multiple copies of the same document

need to react immediately to others’ suggestions – when possible confusion or disagreements will waste time

Possible trouble spots:
Security. In inter-company communications, some companies won’t allow outsiders inside their firewalls, and you should be careful about whom to allow access to your documents.

As with conference calls, a participant might become distracted from the material he’s supposed to be viewing. Don’t let the ease of data conferencing prevent you from setting goals to keep meetings focused.

Videoconference?
When you’re concerned with visuals such as body language, videoconferencing can improve your communication with people in other locations. But since videoconferencing can be more expensive and distracting than the other conferencing forms, use it particularly to:

hold initial meetings of people on virtual teams

interview or meet with potential employees

discuss an item that needs to be seen – a model, an action, a piece of equipment

teach or train when your presence can help participants focus
meet with customers and clients, whose reactions you want to measure.

Videoconferencing may not replace an in-person meeting, but you might use it for follow-up briefings or for including additional participants.

Possible trouble spots:
People are generally self-conscious about videoconferencing. While this aspect can bring camaraderie to an otherwise diverse group, it can also distract from the meeting’s purpose.

Add data conferencing when possible, to help keep your meeting focused and decisive.

When relationships are central to the meeting, meet in person instead. Sometimes nothing really can replace the solid handshake.


Read meeting dilemmas solved by the Meeting Guru.

 


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