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Videoconferencing—Friend or Foe?

By Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE

(933 Words)

On the Cover of the November 19, 2001 issue of Meeting News, the article stated, “Prior to Sept. 11, meeting by electronic means had already gained momentum among U.S. organizations. But now, with the terrorist attacks having exacerbated an already-weak economy, look for electronic conferencing, also known as virtual meetings, to advance substantially in 2002.”

Is a videoconferencing session in your future? If you are a professional speaker and plan to continue in the speaking and training business, you can be assured the likelihood is strong. I believe videoconferencing is both attendee and speaker friendly.

Some of the advantages videoconferencing offers you, the professional speaker; include timesavings and the ability to be in two places at the same time. Additionally, you can do multiple client dates in a single day and travel less. Some of the advantages video conferencing offers meeting planners are reduced speaker cost (travel & fees), availability of multiple location venues (saving attendees travel) and real time global interaction

To make videoconferencing part of your success plan, master the six main areas to that are to follow. The six areas are: Meeting Industry usage, Profitability, Local Accessibility, Technology Applications, Technology Providers and Presentation Skills. Let's take the areas individually.

Meeting Industry Usage

Often, videoconferencing is replacing small meetings. Owens Corning has installed desktop videoconferencing in about one-fourth of the firm's 80 locations worldwide. This allows team members worldwide to meet and make decisions within hours rather than days or weeks before the technology. Ford Motor Company created their FORDSTAR dealer communications network employing satellite transponders. This allows broadcast quality on several channels. The main purpose has been training. Additionally, executives can inform all manufacturing locations on developments without having to travel. National associations and corporations are including real-time videoconferencing in their annual meetings. Also, multi location meetings save travel and hotel expense. The explosion is close at hand. About one-fifth of the Fortune 1000 companies have corporate networks. I believe we professional speakers must design our future. It is better than flowing with the uncertain wind, wherever it goes.


There is gold in those Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines if we know how to dig. Besides the time savings and multiple client days, back-of-the-room products (video) can be the byproduct of a videoconference, just record it, the camera is already there. Clients, who before could not afford you, now might.  Your clients will experience the hard-dollar benefits with multiple locations and reduced travel expenses. Additionally, companies with videoconferencing capability are receiving soft-dollar benefits through improved information sharing and productivity gains.

Local Accessibility

How much time you save will depend on how close you are to an organization that has a videoconferencing studio for rent. Kinko's, one of my partners in the bringing the technology to the National Speakers Association (NSA) convention a few years ago in Orlando, has 800 locations worldwide. They might be the first place to check, call 1-800-2-KINKOS for the nearest videoconferencing location. Additionally, universities are a good place to look, as are large corporations with public rooms and other providers. Another possibility is to purchase your own camera, like PictureTel's Live 50 desktop unit.

Technology Applications

How can you profit? When you want to interview an important person, have them go to their local Kinko's. They will get a kick out of it and you saved travel expense and time. The few dollars it cost to set up the videoconferencing network is usually less than the cost of a flight. You can close deals with important clients who have the technology. You can do your consulting using the technology as will as simply making presentations. Not to make it sound like a kinko's advertisement, but it is half-price on the weekends.

Technology Providers

My partners at the NSA convention were PictureTel, Kinko's and Sprint; they paid for everything but the ISDN lines in the hotel. For videoconferencing to work needed are cameras and monitors for all locations (to be interactive) and the network (telephone or private) to carry the sound and picture signal. The telephone line capability is currently the bottleneck. For clean broadcast-quality videoconferencing, three ISDN lines are required.  ISDN lines carry up to 128 kilobits per second. Think of your dial-up modem at a maximum 56 kilobits per second and you will understand. Lucent Technologies is currently laying fiber optics cable across the USA (they recently tore up the streets in my neighborhood). Also higher speed cable and DSL are becoming available for your home or office.

It is now time for a warning. The technology usually works if connected properly. If you are going to use the technology in a real-time situation at a conference, have a technician on site. PictureTel hired VideoLinx Communications in Annandale, Virginia to do the connection in Orlando and they were great. Without a qualified technician, you could end up eating crow.

Presentation Skills

The camera is much different from live. Things you need to consider include: Move slower, make smaller gestures and romance the camera. The camera lens is the portal to your audience. Avoid plaids and prints that may be emphasized on the screen. White clothing creates glare and red bleeds. Videoconferencing etiquette reminds us of the broadcast delay. Remember to give the person on the far side time to answer before you start again. Avoid coughing into microphones, shuffling papers or possible side conversations.

Videoconferencing technology could be your foe (speaker and meeting planner) if you are not willing to learn. But, like getting your first computer, master it and the technology will be your friend in new speaking and meeting possibilities and profits.


Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE, is the author of PartnerShift, Developing Strategic Alliances and The Art of Partnering and has over 2,000 published articles to his credit. Ed travels internationally to deliver strategic alliance keynotes and workshops. He can be reached at or visit

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