Because of the increasing availability of conferencing technology, more and more meetings are held with participants who are geographically dispersed. Active participation in videoconference meetings can be challenging because the meeting experience is usually more stilted and the communication flow can be frustrating. Here are some tips to overcome these obstacles.
Decide carefully who should be attending the meeting at each site. Minimizing the number of participants maximizes the visibility of each participant, the conversation flow and the overall human connection.
To create more intimacy when participants are strangers to one another, ask participants to send photos, short biographies and other personal tidbits about themselves to others prior to the first meeting.
A videoconference meeting should be especially well-planned. Provide meeting materials far in advance and suggest ways for participants to be well-prepared.
Prepare visual material in advance that can be viewed clearly by all parties during the meeting. The less you rely on an auditory exchange of information (as opposed to discussion) the better.
Establish participation signals. Participants can be asked to do any of the following to gain permission to speak.
Raise their hands
Say the facilitator's name first ("Chris, I have an idea on this.")
Say their own name first ("Pat James here. I have an idea.")
Tap the table in front of them
Whistle
Use some kind of sound signal
To equalize participation, take turns deliberately, going from meeting site to meeting site. For example, "Let's hear from the Atlanta group for the next five minutes." Or you might rotate among sites for one brief contribution each.
Follow up each meeting with exchanges through ordinary e-mail or through a discussion database. You could also use an electronic meeting system that allows for synchronous discussion without having to use videoconferencing facilities.

Reprinted with permission from 101 WAYS TO MAKE MEETINGS ACTIVE: Surefire Ideas to Engage Your Group, by Mel Silberman. Copyright © 2000 by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 800.274.4434, www.pfeiffer.com.

Did You Know?
With the average plane trip costing just under $1,400 in hard and soft costs, a person who travels to meetings by plane four times per month spends nearly $5,500 in travel costs. Replacing two of the four plane trips with videoconferencing yields savings of 38 percent (over $2,000).

A network MCI Conferencing White Paper. Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998).

1. James Creighton, "Meeting Rooms of the Future", Group Computing Magazine, Sept/Oct 1998.


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