When video conferencing began, most vendors focused on return on investment related to replacing travel costs. It is easy to justify the expense for a video conferencing system if that meant eliminating a few business trips. But as a daily user of the video, I really believe that the real value of video conferencing is related to phone replacement and travel.
A person-to-person video call is closer to a face-to-face meeting than a phone call – it’s as if you were there. In order to make the experience more realistic, it is important to improve the richness of the call with an important display and good audio quality.
If you focus only on the return on investment of phone call replacement, it is more difficult to sell the value of the video conference. But, if you put forward the subtle benefits, video conferencing can be a powerful tool for improving online communications and collaboration.
Video Conferencing Is More Likely to Be Used in Place of a Phone Call than as an Alternative to Travel
In our bi-weekly sales meeting, the team meets in one of our main conference room as one of our attendees follows it remotely via video conferencing. We have two 80 screens and as our remote participant uses a desktop video conferencing software (ezTalks Meetings). It appears in large on one of the screens. The other screen is used to share content. Generally, this works very well and all the people in the room can communicate with the remote participant as if he were with us (we even make jokes about choosing his shirt).
Recently, due to a logistical problem, this participant was able to join the conference only by telephone. We often go around the table where each of us shares his experiences. After we had gone around the table, we had almost finished the meeting when the remote participant spoke. We had completely forgotten that he was present – this never happens with video conferencing.
Video Conferencing Adds Richness to Meeting Experience
In my professional life, I spent several hours on audio conference calls: as a remote participant but also as a member present in the meeting room. The audio conference allows remote participation, but it also presents several difficulties:
Forgetting People on the Phone Comes Very Often
Sometimes, as a remote participant we can actually speak without cutting off the conversation which is very frustrating.
There Are Bilateral Discussions That We Cannot Hear
At other times, as a remote participant there is a greater temptation to hide to “real work” during meetings. A very effective meeting facilitator is needed to ensure that all participants are engaged and heard at an audio conference.
Video conferencing tools help to solve this problem because they display a list of participants and can also tell who is speaking. But it’s very easy to ignore this when you’re focused on shared content.
My experience with video conferencing is quite different. With a good video conferencing, you can have eye contact and it is easier for all participants to stay focused. It also makes it more difficult for remote participants to try to hide or read their emails because it is now apparent that they are not listening to the discussion. My perception is that video conferencing means that calls are shorter and more engaged. I have not found any studies or research to confirm this, but as videoconferencing becomes more ubiquitous, I am sure we will see more research on it.
We have all seen statistics that indicate that according to a study conducted by UCLA, 93% of the effectiveness of communication is determined by non-verbal cues. All those who have tried video calls understand just how much better it is than audio calls.
A few weeks ago, I had planned a face-to-face meeting in our office with one of our suppliers and two other colleagues. At the last moment, we had to postpone the meeting and decided to use video conferencing. We had 5 participants, all with a desktop video conferencing tool (ezTalks Meetings). I was at home and I could see the other 4 participants on the screen. All worked very well. I do not think the meeting would have been better if we were all in the same room. We could have decided to drive to the office, but instead we met via video conferencing, which saved us a total of 10 hours of collective travel (not including environmental benefits). If we had done the same meeting with an audio call and web conference, we would have lost the wealth of communication. We would not have felt like we were there in person.
When Is It Appropriate to Use Audio and Web Conferencing?
I’m not saying that audio conferences are not appropriate because sometimes video conferencing is not practical, or because some participants do not have access to this technology. It is not a matter of choice because the more elements combined, the more the experience will be enriched.
I use video conferencing to replace phone calls with my colleagues and I prefer to do this, but there are times when audio and web conferencing are more appropriate:
When Video Conferencing Is Not Available (Participants Are Moving)
When there are many participants (you can still use the video, but only to see active participants)
Calls from one to several (a video of the facilitator enriched all the same experience)
Earlier this year, I participated in a webcast hosted by a vendor of video conferencing equipment. This was done to announce the launch of a new product. At this call, there were over 200 individuals connected via the video conferencing technology of the vendor. The technology was working well, we could see many of the participants at a distance, including the one who was driving on the highway while drinking his coffee. As you can imagine, it became quite distracting to watch the other participants and in this case, the audio and web conference would probably have worked better. Just like an audio call, certain protocols must be observed by the participants. If you are going to make a video call for a similar scenario from one to several, I suggest arranging it so that participants can only see the facilitator.
It seems that we live in a time when the tools of communication are unlimited and new choices appear every day. In my experience, and if I have a choice, I find that the video offers a richer and more concentrated experience than the voice alone, I always choose the video conferencing when possible.