People really don't like to videoconference. Ask anyone who does it on a regular basis and, at best, the response will be neutral. At worst, the response will be militantly negative. Since the costs of installing and using videoconferencing technologies have dropped dramatically over the past five years and the installation base is continuing to grow, the end result is an increased level of dissatisfaction in the videoconferencing user community. However, this can change! More and more corporations, hospitals and universities continue to install videoconference technology because they see it as an effective way to share limited resources, reduce travel expenses and increase overall productivity within their organizations. In order to maximize their return on this investment in technology, the end users need to be trained on how to use the technology effectively.

Let's look at some basic information. When we communicate, 10% of the meaning is contained in the words we choose; 20% is contained in the style of delivery; 70% is contained in non-verbal cues or body language. That's why videoconferencing can be so much more effective than a voice-only conference call.

Let's look at some other facts. When we engage in a face-to-face conversation, all parties walk away with an 80% level of common understanding and agreement of what was discussed; in a voice-only meeting, this level drops to 40%; when the meeting is held over videoconference, the level rises back up to 60%.

The natural assumption, then, is that meeting over videoconference is the next best thing to being there. That is true for the way most people engage in videoconference. However, when used properly, videoconference can actually be BETTER than being there in person. People just need to know how to increase their effectiveness in a videoconference. These tips will help.

1. Proper camera placement is critical.
If you're making your presentation from the front of the room, the camera should be placed at eye-level with the seated participants (at the end of the conference table or the back of the classroom.) That way, when you're looking at the people in your local room, you automatically maintain good eye contact with the people at the far end. You should place a display monitor with the camera so that when you look at the people on the monitor, it appears you're looking them directly in the eye. This keeps people at the far side connected with you and helps them feel like they're part of the presentation.

2. Practice, practice, practice.
Be familiar with the equipment you'll be using, including the placement and operation of the cameras, microphones and remote controls. Make sure there are fresh batteries in all the devices which require them. Practice your transitions from the audio visual devices you'll be using. Be fluent and confident.

3. Use your voice and your body tools.
Vary the pitch and tone of your voice to add emphasis and meaning. Use appropriate facial expressions and gestures. Remember, the camera doesn't like rapid or "throw away" gestures, so hold the gesture a little longer than you may be used to for local presentations. No rocking or swaying. These gestures get amplified over video and become very annoying in a short amount of time.

4. Be careful how you dress.
Avoid busy patterns and narrow stripes. Stay away from green and yellow. If you have blond hair, wear dark blue or light beige. Brunettes should wear medium gray or dark blue; light gray gives a tanned look. Redheads should wear medium gray or dark blue to add intensity. If you have white or gray hair, choose pink or rose colors; violet and light blue will give pink flesh tones.

5. Slides can make or break a virtual meeting.
If you're using information from a computerized slide show like PowerPoint, the minimum font size is 36-40 points. Anything smaller will be illegible on the far side. Avoid saturated colors like deep reds, blues and greens. They smear and bleed over video. Use graphics to help illustrate your ideas. Minimize the amount of words actually put on the slide. Encapsulate the idea and then expand on it verbally.

6. Maintain the face-to-face connection.
If you use other sources of visual information like a PowerPoint slide show, a whiteboard or videotape, remember to switch back to your face as often as possible. Maintaining the face-to-face connection is critical for effective communication.

7. Lighten up.
The space used for videoconferencing should be lit with indirect light sources. Turn off the downcans.1 They create inconsistent light levels and will result in raccoon eyes and deep shadows under the chin. A videoconference room should have 70 foot-candles of light at the face (not desktop). Indirect lighting (bouncing the light off the ceiling or walls or some other device like " paracube diffusers) will reduce fatigue on the people in the room. Use color-corrected lamps to achieve a light temperature between 3200 and 3400 degrees Kelvin.

8. Break often.
Remember, videoconferencing is very intensive and focused. Plan for a 10 minute break every 50 minutes or so. Let people stretch their legs. Use the 10 minutes to catch your breath and get ready for the next segment.

9. Comfort is important.
Make sure the temperature is set at an appropriate level and the chairs are ergonomically correct.

About Sandra J. Sharer, Director of Finance
Sharer brings over ten years experience in finance and accounting for technology-related companies to Logical Transitions, Inc. First with an audio visual systems integrator, then a computer software and silicon developer, and most recently, a fine and performing arts organization, Sharer has provided the focused, detailed, reliable information critical in running a successful business.

Sharer has spent many years working with her husband, Scott, who is recognized as an expert in the field of videoconferencing. Supporting his work and assisting him gives her an understanding and appreciation for the technology. Her financial background lends a qualified perspective on the implementation of high technology. She believes training the end-user is absolutely necessary in order to maximize the return on the investment of capital, whether it's as simple as e-mail or as complex as videoconferencing.

Sharer is a certified trainer at Logical Transitions, Inc. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

1. The light fixture in the ceiling is known as pots (recessed) or cans (surface-mounted on a track). Pointing the cans to bounce off the walls creates indirect lighting and avoids shadows below the chin and hollowed eye sockets.


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