In the early days of videoconferencing system, most vendors focused on the ROI of replacing expensive travel. It was easy to justify the expense of a videoconferencing system by eliminating a few executive trips, but as a user of video on a daily basis, I believe that the real value of videoconferencing lies in replacing phone calls and intra-city travel.
A person-to-person video call is much closer to a face to face meeting, than a phone call is – closer to being there. To make the experience as close to “being there” it is important to enhance the richness of the call with a large monitor and good audio quality. I use the CHAT 50 from ClearOne, it’s a USB powered speakerphone with built-in echo and noise cancellation, and it eliminates the need for me to wear headphones or ear buds, making the call feel more natural.
If you are solely focused on the ROI of replacing phone calls, it is more difficult to sell the value of videoconferencing. But if you shift the focus to include the soft benefits, videoconferencing can be a powerful tool to enhance communications and collaboration.
Video 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 assembles in our main boardroom, one of the participants (RD) is remote, so he participates via videoconference. We have two 80” displays and since RD is using a desktop video client (Vidyo), he appears larger than life on one of the displays; the other display is used to share content. Typically this works very well, everyone in the room can interact with RD as if he was in the room, we even tease him about his shirt selection.
Recently, due to logistics, RD was only able to join using a phone. We often have a roundtable discussion where each of us to raise issues and share experiences; after going around the table we were about to wrap up when RD spoke up and I realized that we had all forgotten that RD was part of the meeting – this never happens on a videoconference.
Videoconferencing Adds to a Rich Meeting Experience
In my work life, I have spent countless hours on audio conferences, both as a remote participant and in the meeting rooms. Audio conferencing enables remote participation but it has many shortcomings:
- Forgetting about people on the phone, is very common
- Sometimes as the remote participant we get frustrated, we can’t seem to break into the conversation
- There are side bar discussions happening we can’t hear
- Other times, as the remote participant, we welcome the opportunity to hide and get “real work” done during the meeting
It takes a very effective meeting facilitator to make sure everyone is engaged and heard in audio conferences.
Webconferencing tools help with this problem because they show a list of participants and often show who is speaking. But, it’s easy to lose track of this feature when you are focussed on the content being shared.
My experience with video calls is quite different. With effectively enabled video, you can have eye to eye contact and it’s much easier for all participants to remain engaged. It’s difficult for remote participants to hide or check email, as it’s apparent that they aren’t focussed on the discussion. My perception is that video conferencing leads to shorter more engaged calls, I haven’t seen any studies to back this up, but as video calls become more ubiquitous I’m sure we will see more research done.
We have all heard the statistics, according to a UCLA study 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Anyone who was tried video calls understands how it’s a richer experience than audio only.
A few weeks ago I had scheduled a face to face meeting in our office with one of our suppliers and two other colleagues. At the last minute we had to postpone the meeting and due to scheduling we ended up having the call via a videoconference. We had 5 participants, each using a desktop videoconferencing client. I was at home and could clearly see all 4 remote participants in a “Hollywood Squares” configuration on my 20” monitor. It worked wonderfully; I don’t think it would have been any better if we had all been in the same room. We could have all driven to our office for the meeting, but by doing it via videoconferencing we collectively saved approximately 10 hours of driving time, not to mention the environmental benefits. Had we done the same meeting using a web conference and audio only, we would have lost a lot of the communications richness. It would not have been as close to “being there”.
When Does Audio Conferencing/Web Conferencing Fit?
I’m not saying that audio conferences aren’t still relevant, there are times when video communication isn’t practical or when many of the participants don’t have access to the technology. And web conferencing adds an important layer of richness to an audio conference. It is not an either or discussion, the more conferencing elements that can be effectively combined, the richer the experience.
I use videoconferencing in place of phone calls regularly with my colleagues and prefer it in most instances, but there are times when audio and/or web conferencing are a better fit:
- When video isn’t available (participants are mobile)
- When you have a large number of participants (you can still use video but only see active speakers)
- One to Many calls (video of the host still enhances the call)
Earlier this year I participated in webcast hosted by a videoconferencing vendor. This was for a product announcement and there were over 200 people globally connected via the vendor’s videoconferencing technology. The technology worked well but we were able to see several of the remote participants, including a person driving down the highway while enjoying a coffee! As you can imagine watching the other participants became quite distracting and in this case an audio only conference with web conferencing might have worked better. Just like a audio conference call, certain protocols must be observed by participants. If you are going to do a videoconference for a one to many scenario, then I suggest setting it up so participants can only see the presenter.
I Always Choose Video Calls over Audio Calls
It seems we are living in a time of unlimited communications tools and new choices seem to pop up every day. From my experience and, if given the choice, I find a video call provides a much richer, focussed communications experience than voice only and I choose to use it whenever possible.
If you are interested in learning more about the unrealized benefits of videoconferencing don’t hesitate to Contact Us.