Videoconferencing is easier than ever. Nearly anyone with a laptop or smartphone can do video calls these days. Why bother with conference calls when you can meet up in person, virtually speaking? Business is all about relationships, and videoconferencing is a much better tool for teamwork and collaboration than voice alone.
Why use video?
So why is videoconferencing better than phone? It’s a superior communications tool, second only to real-life meetings. Studies have shown that about two thirds of all communication is actually nonverbal. With videoconferencing, you can pick up on visual cues such as facial expression, body language and gestures. With a phone call, all you get is voice. That means you are missing critical elements of every interaction. There simply is no substitute.
Another key benefit is engagement. On conference calls that are voice-only, people may multitask and lose focus. Since you can’t see them, you can’t tell what else they may be doing besides listening. On a video call, you are expected to visibly pay attention to the topic at hand, and the rest of the participants can easily see if you get side-tracked. This is a level of accountability not possible with voice calls.
Ironically, video conferencing can be more efficient than regular meetings as well. Since there is a defined start and end, with people calling in from different locations, there is less likely to be as much chitchat before and after. That keeps meetings very focused.
Obviously, video conferencing has a variety of additional benefits: it can bring people together across multiple locations, it supports telecommuters by keeping them in touch with teammates, and it reduces travel expenses. It’s green too, since it reduces the need for travel.
Videoconferencing can be used for far more than just team meetings. It’s highly effective for interviews, making it a great screening tool for out-of-town candidates. It’s excellent for training, and sessions can be recorded for reference at a later date. It’s also a terrific tool to use with prospects and customers. Your sales people can have much more personal contact by video as they are working through the sales process, and you can ensure great customer service by conferencing in customers as you work together with them. Even one-on-one meetings between staff members can be enhanced with video instead of just voice.
If you have a PC with a camera and microphone, you can videoconference. You simply need a service to facilitate the calls. Some of the most popular services are Citrix GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, Fuze Meeting Pro and Skype Premium.
Each has its pros and cons, but the core of all these products is PC-based videoconferencing. Skype is one of the least expensive options if you just want to try out whether this works for you. As long as the main caller has Skype Premium, you can conference in up to ten callers. The other callers can use free accounts.
If you like Skype but want to do more, consider exploring the more robust services listed above. They allow for more callers and provide more collaboration tools — at additional cost, of course. Each company has slightly different needs, so you will want to test which service is right for your organization.
To enhance your video capabilities, upgrade your conference room with a large wall-mounted display that’s connected to a PC. Hook up a quality camera and microphone. Then you can easily host group video conferences.
If you find that staff are using videoconferencing one-on-one, check out video chat options that allow for quick connections. Lync, from Microsoft, offers this; Skype is also an easy and effective tool. A good quality webcam costs less than $100, making it easy and cost-effective to provide high quality video to everyone on your team.
The only other item you will need to consider is Internet bandwidth. If you are running videoconferences on a regular basis, they take a lot more bandwidth than phone calls and email. A T1 will be maxed out in no time. Check out high-speed fiber Internet connections, or at least a fast cable Internet connection. Pricing continues to drop, making the additional bandwidth steadily more affordable. If you go with a cable connection, get the fastest upload speed you can. A fast download means you will be able to receive audio and video from others, but without a good upload your audio and video may come across as choppy.
You can videoconference from anywhere, not just your desk or conference room. Anyone with a laptop likely has a camera built in, and for very little extra you can upgrade them to an HD-quality videocam. However, a laptop is not required. Mobile devices like tablets and even smartphones will work for most of the videoconferencing tools listed here. This means your team can meet from nearly any location.
PC-based options are a fraction of the cost, but they can’t replicate the quality and ease of the high-end video conferencing systems, like Lifesize, Cisco TelePresence, and Polycom. These systems are expensive and consume huge amounts of bandwidth, but they provide the highest quality connections. The goal of these pricey systems is to make it feel like you are sitting right across the table from the other callers. Multiple high-definition cameras with eye-tracking features and directional microphones are programmed to replicate an in-person experience as closely as possible.
A free Skype account and a couple webcams are all you need to get started with videoconferencing. Next time you want to do a conference call, try video instead. Connect to team members working from home, customers in another city, or even staff who are traveling. As you expand your horizons, try screen-sharing or use a virtual whiteboard so that you can collaborate with everyone on the call. Once you get accustomed to videoconferencing, you will find more and more ways to use it. It’s a great way to bring your team and your customers together.
Wendy Gauntt is president of CIO Services LLC, a technology consulting company that specializes in small-business solutions. Visit her website at www.cioservicesllc.com for more information, ideas and free resources.