In a well run meeting you can solve problems, motivate people, initiate new projects, solve conflicts, get buy-in and build relationships more quickly and easily than in any other way. It’s no wonder meetings are so popular!

Research shows that the written word carries only about 7% of the true meaning of what you communicate and 38% is carried in the way that things are said. A full 55% of the meaning and the feelings behind a communication are carried in facial expressions and other nonverbal signals such as gestures and body movement.

With these statistics as background, it’s no wonder that there are certain circumstances under which face-to-face meetings are the only way to go:

  1. to resolve a conflict
  2. where there are strong feelings
  3. when people hold different opinions
  4. you need commitment to a change or new idea
  5. in important negotiations
  6. when you need to develop relationships.

But when the time, cost or danger involved in gathering executives together from different locations, countries, and time zones is prohibitive, audio and videoconferencing become attractive alternatives.

Web and video conferencing allow real time communication as if everyone involved is in a room together. Computers, software, video cameras, speakers, microphones and fast internet connections have to be available and compatible. Unfocussed video cameras and microphones that send out hissing sounds can spoil the whole show.

Video conferencing can be expensive to install and tricky to operate. Careful planning is required for its success. Web conferencing, where users remain in their own offices, reduces some of the technological hazards.  But for both, users must behave as if they are on camera…at all times!

Cameras have trouble with black, white and red; and with tight patterns, pin stripes and geometric shapes.  Cell phones, gum, coins and any pen that you can click are distractions. Gestures should be smaller than usual and not come between your face and the camera. Mannerisms such as touching your face or hair, fidgeting with jewellery, and overuse of words such as actually, okay or um, all detract from the content of what you say.

In spite of all the care, it can still sometimes be difficult to really see how a particular person or group is reacting in a web or video conference.

Audio conferencing by telephone works when the content of the communication does not rely on visual input. Its main advantage is convenience. People can be part of a call from almost anywhere at any time: coffee shop, airport, home, or the golf course. Little technology or skill in its use is required.

Its main disadvantage is that all non-verbal communication is lost; reactions and feelings are hard to gauge or interpret. It’s difficult to look at documents during calls and a high level of concentration is required throughout. Since over 80% of people are visual learners, audio conferencing does not create a generally effective learning environment.

The decision on whether a face to face meeting can be justified rests on practicalities and on the intention of the meeting. Sometimes there’s simply no alternative to sitting down together and sorting things out.

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