Videoconferencing: Making a Strong Comeback in a Weak Economy

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01Sep2009

Videoconferencing: Making a Strong Comeback in a Weak Economy

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By Barbara Lynch

Videoconference RoomDuring the discovery process, when people can’t be in the same location at the same time, videoconferencing is a very convenient way of communicating while still being able to observe facial expressions, mannerisms, and body language.

According to an article last month in Portland’s Oregonian newspaper, big businesses like Cisco and Hewlett Packard have reduced their travel budgets immensely with Cisco saving $5 million annually and HP slicing 30% off their travel expenses because of, for the most part, videoconferencing technology.

In the article, John Boudreau comments on how big businesses are crediting videoconferencing as the reason they can cut back so much on their outgoing travel expenses.

“Just a few years ago, Advanced Micro Devices executive Linda Starr racked up a million air miles a year in business travel. Now she logs a mere 100,000 miles per year, thanks to sophisticated videoconferencing technology,” he wrote.

“In a trend that could transform the way companies do business, Cisco Systems has slashed its annual travel budget by two-thirds – from $750 million to $240 million – by using similar conferencing technology to replace air travel and hotel bills for its vast work force.”

Focusing on cutting travel expenses and saving traveling time isn’t new to businesses, but it has become more commonplace over the last few years. This trend isn’t just prevalent in big Fortune 500 companies, but the legal industry and law firms of all sizes are also looking at ways to trim their own budgets in this way and are doing so successfully.

An article on the American Bar Association’s website rhetorically asks lawyers of law firms of all sizes if videoconferencing is in their future. The piece goes on to quote Steve Batoff, a solo practitioner in Baltimore who finds videoconferencing beneficial to his clients.

“I used videoconferencing two years ago when I was representing a Baltimore company that is owned by a German parent,” Batoff said. “They needed to discuss operations for the upcoming fiscal year with the German parent. At first they were going to fly people from Germany—at least five people, maybe six. The feeling was the conference would take two to two and a half weeks. My client was concerned with the cost.”

Something Old is New Again

Sharing images via technology has been around for about fifty years but within only the last few years has it gotten to a point of availability and sophistication that can make it a wise option for conducting depositions.

Videoconferencing obviously doesn’t replace face-to-face depositions as a preferred method; however, newer technology mixed with the desire to reduce firm and client costs is making it a very close second.

Time is Money

In the ABA article, the author spoke to James Carbine, a Baltimore litigator, who calls videoconferencing “the wave of the future.”

“We practiced a deposition using videoconferencing technology. The phone lines we used weren’t good enough.” Carbine said. “You could see the person, but his movements were a half-second behind.” Still, Carbine liked what he saw and reports that in comparison, “a telephone deposition is like asking questions to someone behind a curtain.”

In the past, firms couldn’t rely on videoconferencing because the technology wasn’t developed enough to the level needed and using the more advanced systems for the time weren’t cost effective.

“Until recently, videoconferencing was not something executives could depend on. Corporate networks, for example, lacked the bandwidth to handle video. Connecting far-flung participants required endless fiddling from the company’s IT department. Audio and video were often out of sync – so the movement of participants’ lips didn’t match their words. Then there were the constant freeze-frames and dropped connections, which often resulted in frustrated participants boarding planes for face-to-face meetings,” John Boudreau, author of the Oregonian article wrote.

As the media world has become more digital in recent years, the quality of videoconferencing and its dependability level has increased at a rapid rate. What one might see as an archaic medium is now being viewed as a viable option in business and now can even be used in high definition. High definition offers such clear viewing that, when mixed with a wide screen presentation, the sweat on the witness’s brow could be seen if one looks closely enough.

Paul Waadevig, Global Program Director with the Frost & Sullivan Conferencing & Collaboration Practice, shares his perspective in his article, The Death of Corporate Travel?:

“If you are skeptical that we are in the midst of a virtual business evolution, it’s important to remember that this is just one mega-trend within a societal
‘super mega-trend.’ We are more receptive to virtual interaction than ever before. In less than a generation, we have transformed our human communications from spoken and written to electronic and video.

“The trend is clear. When technology increases productivity, decreases overall costs and improves overall efficiency, it will eventually trump objections based on antiquated thinking. So, when you hear someone say, ‘We will always have that (fill in the blank: convention, sales meeting, board meeting, etc.) face-to-face because it (fill in the blank: builds trust, increases teamwork, facilitates new relationship building),’ remember that similar objections have been made and dismissed across our economy.”

All MediumsA Win-Win

Both attorneys and their clients can reap the benefits of utilizing videoconferencing technology on a regular basis. It can allow for more time and resources to be devoted to other important parts of case preparation.

The obvious benefits of conducting depositions via videoconferencing are the convenience partnered with saving time and money.

But, there is also good news for those who are less tech-savvy: the entire process can be managed for you – including on-site tech support which makes the depositions hassle free, allows all parties to be free of distraction, and makes for a much more productive and smooth meeting.

Another more subtle, yet possibly more impactful, benefit of videoconferencing is how it can potentially improve client relations. Offering clients the option of meeting via videoconferencing will not only allow them to also reap the cost and time savings, but they could view it as another way that the firm is acting on their best interest. The time that both the attorneys and their clients save on travel can be used for more productive, in-person case preparation time, which is also valuable to the client.

The scheduling flexibility is a highly valuable benefit of videoconferencing because it alleviates being locked into airline schedules and advance travel bookings. Scheduling a video conference gives more room for last-minute date or time changes which, as we know, are common when arranging depositions with multiple parties involved.

10 Favorite Video conferencing Tips

David Byrd, who is often relied on as a “conferencing expert” at TelePath – an audio, web and conferencing company in Las Vegas – shares his favorite tips when it comes to videoconferencing.

“Video conferencing is a highly technical, vastly complicated technology that has been structured from the ground up to be as simple and user friendly as possible. Even though video conferencing has only really become a viable medium in the past few years, it’s taken off as an attractive option when communicating with friends, families, colleagues, and clients,” he says.
“Despite its simplicity, there are many things you can do – or not do – to ensure a great virtual meeting.”

  1. Give and take — questions and answers — are the bedrock of communication. In a video conference, you are hampered by not having everyone in front of you. This is especially apparent when you ask a question, as it is sometimes difficult for your participants to know who you are talking to. Make sure you say a person’s name at the beginning of your question.
  2. An issue specific to virtual meetings is the mute button. Mute buttons are essential to having a well ordered and quiet meeting, and their use should be encouraged. However, they can slow up Q&A sessions, especially impromptu ones. When you ask someone a question, make sure you give them a few seconds to respond. This allows them time to unmute themselves.
  3. With everyone separated, it’s difficult to get a consensus. Asking people to raise their hands if they agree only really works in smaller video conferences where you have a window for each person. On larger calls or multiple meeting rooms, it can be impossible to get an accurate answer. Couch your questions to address the least amount of responses. For example, don’t ask if everyone understands; ask who doesn’t understand.
  4. Video conferencing technology is hi-tech, but that just means it will do what it is supposed to. Shouting or speaking loud is not only annoying, but it also shows inexperience with virtual meeting technology. Speak in a normal tone of voice. Don’t worry, they will hear you.
  5. If you can’t help but worry that people can’t hear you, test your sound first. Get your participants to introduce themselves at the beginning of the conference. Not only will this help break the ice, but it will also allow you to hear their volume and sound quality. If you’re still anxious about your own output, simply ask someone if they can hear you well.
  6. It may feel counterintuitive, but you shouldn’t look very often at the people on your screen, especially when you are addressing them. The best place to look while speaking is directly into the camera lens. Your participants will get the impression that you are looking directly at them. This creates a more trustworthy, congenial experience between them and you.
  7. If you’ve done your preparations correctly, you know exactly how far you can move while in front of your camera. To help you hit your “mark,” use your mouse as your anchor point. Hold on to the mouse naturally while setting up your camera. Then, as you move back and forth pay attention to how far your arm bends or straightens. When you’re live, you’ll be able to keep yourself on screen without distracting yourself.
  8. Unless you have dropped $50,000 to $150,000 on your video conferencing setup, you won’t have perfectly smooth, indistinguishable-from-real-life video. So, you need to work within the limitations of you and your participant’s equipment and bandwidth. The most important thing to remember is to keep your gestures small and your movements slower than normal. A little attention to this detail will minimize any choppy effects.
  9. Your clothes say a lot about you, but through a video conference some clothes say it loudly. To provide the best view of you, try to dress in light pastels and muted colors. Bright, loud colors can make your skin look weird on screen. Don’t wear all light or all dark colors to avoid any white balance or contrast issues. Busy patterns too are something to avoid.
  10. While your clothes are telling your participants about you, so is the spot that you chose to do your conference from. Other than the obvious point that what you have on your desk and behind you will make impressions on your participants, they can also be detrimental to your video quality. Try to have a clean or bare background with a neutral color. Keep all camera-visible areas neat and decluttered. Not only will you look better on screen, it says something about how you work.

Coaching

Mr. Byrd encourages his clients by emphasizing the benefits along with providing useful tips that will help them succeed.

“Video conferences are a great way to save money, time, and energy while still getting as much or more work done than before. They are hi-tech and worth a lot of ‘cool’ points in the business world.” He points out.

“If you put in the time and planning, your video conferences can be like the technology itself: complicated, yet smooth and on the cutting edge.”

The Value of “Hassle-Free”

As a company that has been arranging video conferences for firms for many years, Atkinson-Baker has kept in step with what firms need and, at the same time, the technology required to meet those needs.

Offering premier videoconferencing to their clients as part of every deposition scheduling has given Atkinson-Baker clients impactful depositions that serve their purpose without the hassle and unnecessary expenses. Over the years, hundreds of firms have taken advantage of Atkinson-Baker videoconferencing services for depositions all over the world. The requests have steadily increased in recent years as firms are budgeting more wisely and are embracing videoconferencing as an option without sacrifice.

Firms are also realizing that handing over the scheduling, the arranging and the technical aspects of videoconferencing to someone else makes it that much more appealing.

An Atkinson-Baker client out of Oakland, California, had this to say: “Thank you for making the videoconferencing deposition a success!  I appreciate the help from your team in completing the videoconferencing called for in a very short period of time. It went very well, and I would definitely recommend your services not only in my office but also to our other locations.  I hope we will continue to work together and create more success stories. Thanks to everyone at ABI who was involved in the process.”

Although videoconferencing is growing stronger as a business tool for many businesses, it’s not making every industry happy – especially the airlines.

Regarding the fact that Cisco plans to use videoconferencing so they can limit their travel budget, John Boudreau of the Oregonian spoke to an expert. “That is not good for the travel industry, already reeling from a recession some experts call the worst in aviation history. Airlines have seen as much as 30 percent drops in the number of business passengers,” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly. The industry is in such bad shape that British Airways recently cut the canapés and chocolates for front-cabin occupants.”

The airline industry might not be happy that videoconferencing is gaining popularity, but the legal industry is taking advantage of it and is benefiting greatly – with or without canapés and chocolates.

Noted contributor reference: David Byrd is the conference call expert at TalkPath LLC.; Read more from David or find out about video conferencing services at TalkPathConferencing.com; Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=David_Byrd

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