The first time I took part in a videoconference, it was 1990. It was the initial introduction of two teams, one in the U.S. and one in Europe. The technology posed several challenges, particularly the transmission delays. To break the ice, the manager who was sitting with me in the U.S. told a joke. We all laughed, but were dismayed to find that the team in Europe apparently did not think it was funny, so we stopped laughing, self-conscious. As soon as we had stopped laughing, the team in Europe started laughing; it had taken that much time for the joke to be transmitted across the Atlantic, and the reaction to be transmitted back to us.
Technology has come a long way.
The most common presentation technologies when participants are in remote locations include conference calls which use only phone lines; webinars that combine voice and other visual material presented over the computer; and videoconferences.
While there are unique aspects to each of these communication and presentation situations, there are several tips you can use across all of them:
- Start the technical connection early. Technical difficulties can otherwise delay the start time, especially with webinars and videoconferences. A good rule of thumb is to establish the connection 15 minutes early for internal audiences, and up to 30 minutes early if you are speaking to external audiences, such as customers.
- Speak more slowly and use pauses, especially when moving between ideas, or from one slide to the next on a webinar, to ensure that the content is refreshed for all participants. While the delays in communication are not as drastic as my first experience, the quality of phone lines and Internet connections can vary for participants. Some videoconferencing systems automatically enlarge the speaker’s image, which may take a few seconds to accommodate.
- Identify yourself. If there is more than one speaker, not all participants may know your voice. Even in videoconferences, depending on the technology, the speaker may be out of focus or off camera.
- Make the extra effort to involve others. Ask for a round of introductions at the beginning of a conference call or videoconference, and ask individual participants for comments. Often, more than one person will begin to speak at the same time, and as a host, you need to ensure that everyone is heard.
Above all, don’t forget about the people in your own room! I’ve often been in meeting rooms in which the speaker only makes eye contact with the speakerphone in the middle of the table. In another instance, a speaker in a videoconference did not once look at the camera, but instead focused on speaking into his laptop. We only saw his profile. If you do have a visual of the audience, use normal speaking techniques to connect with them.
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