Feb 28 2011

Dip Your Toe Into Video Conferencing

Walk before you run when deciding if video conferencing is right for your business.

Faces become the center of our world from the moment we first focus our eyes as infants. That magical connection continues for the rest of our lives. So why don’t more people use webcams for conversations and collaboration? After all, the Jetsons were using a cartoon videophone for two years before AT&T’s videophone, the world’s first, appeared at the 1964 World’s Fair.

High cost and lack of bandwidth kept video calls out of reach for decades, but that is no longer the case. Netbooks burst onto the scene three years ago, and many included a camera and streaming video support. I’ve used my netbook to chat with people over Skype across thousands of miles, and it works fine.

More and more notebooks include webcams today, and several manufacturers include webcams on at least one model with an LCD monitor. If your monitor doesn’t have a webcam and microphone built in, you can add a good webcam for less than $50, and a great one for around $100. You can also spend many hundreds to thousands of dollars on desktop video conferencing systems, but that’s another story.

One of the complaints about the Apple iPad when it was first introduced is that it didn’t have a webcam. Many tablet PCs entering the market now include web­cams, as do many smartphones. While Apple’s intentions are still unclear, most rumors about iPad 2.0 indicate that it will have a webcam.

Start with the Basics

What will it take for people to regularly use desktop video during, or in place of, a phone call? Big companies often announce grand video conferencing initiatives to cut down on travel costs, but only a handful of those plans actually become reality. Your business, whatever its size, doesn’t have to dive in with budget-busting meeting rooms filled with walls of video screens and remote coworkers — it can dip a toe in the video collaboration waters for just a few hundred bucks.

Start a webcam collaboration project with a few colleagues. Use Skype, Google or Yahoo, or any of the free video connections before asking for a budget. If your group works well with an entry-level webcam system, they will love the upgrade to a higher-end service. But if the video meetings never catch on with low-cost netbooks and add-on cameras, paying for a video conferencing service won’t make a difference.

For privacy and clarity, use headphones during your calls. Cubicle farm inhabitants should get headphones automatically. Those who work from home or connect while traveling can use microphones on the webcam, but think carefully about that option. You love your pets, but your coworkers don’t want to hear from your Chihuahua.

Engage people during conversations by looking directly at the camera to make a point. The other person will see you looking straight at them and will respond to that emotional connection. If you look instead at their face on your screen, they’ll think you’re checking your e-mail.

Finally, according to a recent report by service provider Damovo UK, 10 percent of people refuse to use a webcam because it feels too much like public speaking. If you’re still self-conscious about public speaking, work on this personal issue. One day soon, it will be common to look people in the eye during a phone call. So comb your hair and smile at the future.


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