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Comments Off on Your Business Meeting Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Higher Education

I don’t need to quote any statistics on this because we all know it in our bones: Most business meetings waste a lot of time and kill productivity.

  • 31% of meeting time is spent on things that do not involve all participants.  These should be addressed outside of the meeting.
  • 68% of presenters in meetings are unprepared; 100% of participants can see it.
  • 82% of presentations include the phrase, “This is too small to see, but . . .”
  • 94% of presentations are too long.
  • Most statistics are pulled out of thin air . . . including all of the above.

Regardless of the technology used for the meeting, we could all take a lesson from the TED Talks:

  • Presentations MUST be short (18 minutes or less).
  • Presenters use no notes.
  • Presenters are “naked” before the audience – there is no lectern or table for them to hide behind.
  • Presentations are vetted beforehand to assure that they meet the requirements established by the TED organization (innovative, surprising, challenging an existing belief, a basic idea with a compelling new argument, interesting).
  • Presenters should start by making the audience CARE, using a relatable example or intriguing idea, and end by addressing how what was presented could affect the audience if they were to accept it.

Still, even good presentations, being largely one-directional (from the presenter to the audience) waste precious “face time.” What I mean is that if there are six people in a room for a meeting and one person is doing all the talking, the right mode of delivery is a broadcast – a pre-recorded video that the other five people in the room can watch at their convenience.

But meetings usually aren’t 100% one-directional, there is discussion and collaboration, too.  These activities are where the real work in face-to-face meetings is done.  This is where the time of everyone involved is treated with respect and where few people distract themselves with multi-tasking.

So, here is a better way: Video record the presentation beforehand, require that everyone watches the video and makes a written response; save the face time for collaboration and discussion.  This is the flipped classroom model 

Presenters, keep it short.  Distill your ideas. Use metaphors and common references to get your point across. And keep it short.  Make it interesting and varied. And, most importantly, keep it short. Really. Short.

Viewers honor the effort that went into the short, concise video, and give it your full attention while watching.  Make some notes – either online in the comments, or in your notebook – to help guide the collaboration and discussion time.

Businesses and Organizations, start putting these basic requirements on EVERYONE, including your guests and vendors who want your business.  We are talking about a cultural change here. It will not be accomplished by mere wishing.

Finally, if you’re not sure how to get started – if you feel like making this kind of change is impossible – get some help from Greenline Emeritus Consulting.

Comments Off on Transformation: The Key to Driving Usage & Adoption

“I don’t use a telephone anymore if I can do a video call, instead.” says one of my colleagues in the videoconferencing world.  Granted, his title is, “VP of Usage and Adoption” for one of the big videoconferencing companies, but his sentiment is not merely a show – a good line to spout when one’s job to drive usage of video as a communications medium.  What it is is a concise way of expressing a change in how he works – a change in how he communicates.

A change made possible through technology that’s convenient and easy enough to use; and to use often.

There are loads of people for whom visual, two-way communications is a way of life.  Some have been doing it for so long that they cringe at the thought of an audio conference call and who die a little bit inside when they have to dial a phone.

But for every one person who has adopted video as a way to communicate – who has changed the way that they interact with family and colleagues – there are fifty who haven’t. And of those fifty, forty-five of them have tried videoconferencing and just didn’t “get into it.”   It was either too much of a pain to set up, or it didn’t work right, or there was something about the experience that struck them the wrong way (excessive delay, bad audio, bad camera angles, etc. – we’ve all heard this stuff before).

We know the common thread among those who haven’t adopted a videoconferencing lifestyle.   We have an idea about what’s common among those who have: That it takes several good video call experiences for most people to really get it.   That’s the key, right? Repeated good experiences.

I agree. But there’s more to it.  There is a secret buried here that nobody in the videoconferencing world has figured out.

The secret is this:  Those who “get” the value of visual communications have undergone a transformation in how they communicate.

The crux of the problem is that most people do not like change.  Since transformation means “dramatic change,” and “metamorphosis,” resistance to transformation is natural for most.  Overcoming that resistance is what that “repeated good experiences” is about.  Overcoming that resistance is at the heart of transformation, and by extension, at the heart of adoption of visual communications.

For those who care about driving adoption and usage of videoconferencing – vendors, as well as the customers who shell out Big Bucks and want a decent return on their investment – they need to care about how to make transformations happen.

Transformation of clients.

Transformation of staff.

Transformation of co-workers and business partners.

And if, for some reason, you don’t think that those are Big Hairy Audacious Goals, just remember that People Don’t Like Change.  Changing how your company and your clients do business – THIS is what I’m talking about.  THIS is the challenge of driving usage and adoption of videoconferencing.  This is hard to do, and is exactly why it is not done very well.

We’re Screwed. Right?

Transformation is hard, but not impossible.  There are good examples of businesses and occupations that are all about transformation:.

  • Personal trainers
  • Healthcare organizations
  • Educational institutions
  • Religious institutions
  • Business coaches and consultants

How can we learn from these guys?

Not surprisingly (to anyone who has read much of my writing) the answer lies in the book, The Experience Economy.

The last section of the book points out that the “Experience Economy” is not the end-of-the-line in the Progression of Economic Value (from a commodity-based economy to a goods-based to a service-based to an experience-based economy).  In the same way that  customizing a customer service changes it into a customer experience, a customized and repeated customer experience becomes a customer transformation.

Without getting too deep into how that works, I will just say that taking a videoconferencing experience (that is, a videoconferencing service that is customized and carefully staged to create a great customer experience), customizing it and repeating it is the way to make that transformation happen. It is the way to turn videoconferencing from a mere curiosity into a new and indispensable way to do business.

For vendors:  Figure out how to deliver a consistently good customer experience (create a consistent theme for the experience, analyze the experience from the Four Experience Realms standpoint, extend the user experience beyond the end of the videoconference via social media, feedback, community-building, etc., understand customer sacrifice and customer surprise in addition to customer satisfaction, and so on).  Then mass-customize the experience for your customers and get repeated, good experiences of video communication under their belt.

For organizations that use videoconferencing: Do the same thing as the vendors.  Your customers are predominantly your internal users.  Cater to them. Give them what they want and need (remembering that, frequently, what they DON’T know that they need – but you do). Create an internal community of those that use videoconferencing through social media – whether internal to the organization, or external.

And for everyone: Realize that “work is theatre, and every business a stage.”  This is the tag line of, The Experience Economy, and with its cameras, video monitors, mics and speakers, videoconferencing much more resembles theatre than it does anything else.

Treat it that way.  You’ll be glad that you did.


Of late, the hottest topic within the visual collaboration community is the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) trend.  That is, people want to use their personal smart phones and pad computers for both personal and work purposes.  There is no question that BYOD is a huge and important movement for us.  But this article is not about BYOD.

BYOD means that conference room collaboration tools – with videoconferencing being the most visible (pun intended) – will increasingly be used for “right sized” meetings.  Much less frequently will we see a single person occupying a conference room for a videoconference.  This is a good thing.  Conference rooms, and the technology which connects them together, will be needed as long as people work in teams and groups.  Moreover, we who supply and manage these rooms can now focus more on the needs of groups rather than the needs of groups AND individuals at the same time.

Taking a concept from Pine & Gilmore’s, The Experience Economy, I offer a different (and, in my opinion, BETTER) model for what goes on in the conference room:

Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.

Using this analogy, the conference room is a stage – or, a performance space – and the work that goes on there is theatre.

In the theatre, the performance space is made of:

  • On-Stage area (the part that you can see from the audience)
  • Off-stage area / Wings (the part that you cannot see from the audience)
  • Proscenium: The “gateway” through which the audience looks at the stage.
  • Technology: Lights, cameras, microphones, speakers all of which are “hidden in plain view” of the audience.

The parallels to conference rooms are easy to grasp:

  • On-Stage area is what the camera (and thus the remote participants) see.
  • Off-stage area is what the camera does not see.
  • Proscenium is the frame through which we look to see the other participants (the video monitor’s bezel, for instance).
  • Technology which is both visible and (when done right) “transparent.”

The theatre performance space is flexible and can host different styles of theatre. For the purpose of this article I am considering just one: Improvisation.  Likewise, a technology-enabled conference room is a performance space used for more than one kind of meeting. Most frequently, though, people meet to collaborate.

Collaboration (a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals – from Wikipedia) is improvisation. Going back to Wikipedia, Improvisation is the practice of [. . .] problem solving, or reacting in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment and inner feelings.

Viewing our conference rooms as spaces for collaboration/improvisation, requires a new view of what goes on in them:

Actors (participants) prepared to solve problems through collaboration and improvisation who do so while in performance spaces connected via technology. 

By extension, we have a whole new set of job titles in this Videoconferencing as Theatre:

  • Videoconferences (collaboration work) are Performances
  • AV Technicians are Sensory Specialists
  • Room Coordinators are Concierges and Ushers
  • Meeting “owners” are Playwrights
  • Meeting Coordinators / Moderators are the Director
  • Participants are Performers (including the Prima Donna, the Guy Who Can’t Remember His Lines, the Self-Appointed Director, and the Actor’s Actor).

So why is this important? Why should anyone pay attention to this? The answer is the main thrust of The Experience Economy, namely that businesses that stage experiences rather than offer services create greater value to the customer.  Going deeper, the customer IS the product. When we create, as enablers of this technology for our customers, an experience of human communication which is so good, they return because the experience does something to and for them. The best customer experiences, customized and repeated again and again TRANSFORM the customer. This is of even greater value than a single, great experience on its own.

Think of the way that Disney stages experiences differently than other theme parks. Then think of how people are happy to pay huge amounts of money to have that experience.  And then, they come back to Disney because it does something to them and for them. The same thing applies to videoconferencing rooms: 

Staging videoconferencing experiences for our customers creates greater value than when offering a videoconferencing service. Our customers are willing to pay more for it AND with repeated good experiences, they are transformed in the way that they do business

Our industry has touched on this in a small way with immersive telepresence rooms.  It was when immersive telepresence came on the scene that we started talking about “the videoconferencing experience” as something that goes beyond the technology, and which enables human communication.  The TRUTH is that it is not the technology which creates this experience – it is the technology PLUS the attention to details of what makes up the experience of human communication.  This applies to ALL of our  communication/collaboration tools.  When we stage experiences rather than offer services we create greater value, greater customer engagement and an easier path to collaborative solutions.

 Videoconferencing is Improv Theatre, folks.  Let’s start treating it that way.


. . . that no department wants.

Benny’s Original Rutabaga Korporation is an enormous, multi-national corporation.   They pride themselves on being forward-looking where it comes to technology,and early and eager adopters of collaboration technology.  They bought into videoconferencing before it was cool – before B.O.R.K. was the huge enterprise  it is today.  But their longevity and tech-savviness didn’t help them avoid a common pitfall in technology management today:

Videoconferencing is treated as a mongrel that nobody wants.  

Because it is equal parts I.T., A/V, business communications, conference services, continuing education, and collaborative technology, running the videoconferencing organism (all of the associated equipment – infrastructure and endpoints – PLUS the organizational structure which operates and maintains it) does not fit nicely into common business management models, structures, or practices.

It tends to be managed like a red-headed stepchild.  It should be managed more like a Disney World Experience.

— Let’s get specific, here —

B.O.R.K.’s I.T. department owns servers, workstations, networks, and telecommunications.  They’re also the owner of the videoconferencing service.  They manage budgets, usage, maintenance, service level agreements and strategic direction.  CIOs the world round know how to run an I.T. organization; and though there may be more than one management model for I.T.,  it is an “organism” which is pretty well understood.  B.O.R.K.’s CIO has been around the block and knows what she’s doing.

But B.O.R.K.’s I.T. department is just not well equipped to own videoconferencing.  At best, they have one or two subject matter experts – experts in the technology or operations, or both – but they do not have any authority to dictate how the service is used, nor are they involved in assisting those who use it to truly understand and wield its intrinsic power for human communications.

Why is this such an issue? Why is videoconferencing so different from the other services that IT owns?

It’s because videoconferencing is not just a phone with moving pictures. It is an experiential medium for human interaction.

— Why I.T.? Why not I.T.? —

For B.O.R.K and so many other enterprise-sized organizations, I.T. is the default owner simply because videoconferencing looks like computers, web cams, and networks.  I.T. understands the parts (though audiovisual technology often baffles them) and so can maintain the equipment but is ill-equipped – and doesn’t have the authority – to develop the right company culture around its use.  Put a bit more metaphorically, IT cannot get the car out of first gear.

Visual telecommunications is a mosaic, a beautiful creation; more than the sum of its technological parts.

— Why Conference Services. Why not? —

B.O.R.K. is large enough to have a conference center and a conference services department, which for a while owned videoconferencing.  After all, it tends to be the biggest user of it, so why not?

It does seems like a good idea at first blush, but videoconferencing today goes WAY beyond the conference room.  The proliferation of small, powerful, Internet-connected devices and the Bring Your Own Device (B.Y.O.D.) trend in business means that video is everywhere:  trains, planes and automobiles.  ‘Pads, ‘Pods, computers and smart phones.  This diversity-of-devices takes video far beyond the mission and purpose of Conference Services.  When visual communications was limited to conference rooms, a good argument could be made for the conference service to own it. But, to be honest, most conference center managers are stuck in an old paradigm which simply does not grasp the significance of connecting people together in one virtual meeting. But no matter. Conference Services is not the right owner, anyway.

— Who, then? —

The problem with traditional, service-oriented models for videoconference management is that videoconferencing is an experience, and needs to be managed as one.  I wrote about this in “What do you expect of your videoconferencing investment.”   Because we try to squeeze this organism into an unenlightened and outmoded “operations” model — that of a service — it never finds the right owner.

Were we to stage experiences rather than offer services we would find that the organism is best owned by the Customer Experience department; or, lacking one, it should be owned by Marketing.

— Why Disney? —

Disney knows that their customers are coming to experience something special and are willing to pay extra for it.  For Disney, business is a stage and work is putting on a show.   This is the core of staging an experience.  If B.O.R.K. is ever to break out of its mediocre, outdated model for videoconference organism management, they should model themselves after the Magic Kingdom.

— That’s Ridiculous —

I am not saying that a videoconferencing experience should be based on fantasy and a contrived story line.  But I am saying that if B.O.R.K. understands how to analyze its videoconferencing organism as a highly valuable experience for business communication it would begin to shape the videoconferencing experience into one which, when repeated consistently, transforms the way they do business. Does that sound outlandish? Is that a highly inflated view of what visual communications can be for a business?

We already know that this is a highly experiential medium, but we usually compare it to a telephone.

We already know that there’s a difference between delivering a service to the customers and staging an experience for them.

We already know that a good experience is highly valued, and good service is merely a commodity – blithely offered by a thousand different providers.

What we aren’t sure of is whether or not staging videoconferencing experiences is worth the effort.

I don’t know about you, but I go out of my way to visit Disney.  The effort they put into the theme park experience makes it well worth the effort. And it transforms my outlook on life.


I asked some colleagues of mine, who work in distance education at the university level, what were the top two or three things on the minds of the higher education community with regard to the technology of distance ed.  One of the responses was this:

“One of the frustrations that a lot of us in the videoconference business have is that, even if we spend a lot of money on technology for a videoconference room, it still rarely works exactly as needed.” – Tony Hockenberry of Texas A&M University

This frustration goes beyond the ivy-covered walls of the university community. The same problem exists in every corner of the videoconferencing world and incarnates the concept of customer sacrifice from Pine & Gilmore’s The Experience Economy. I wrote about customer sacrifice in an earlier blog article, but to refresh your memory: Customer sacrifice is the difference between what the customer wants exactly and what they settle for.  Reducing customer sacrifice results in a better experience for the customer.  A better experience adds value to the product offering.

For me, the guiding principle here is minimizing distraction or increasing transparency. When the technology does not perform as needed, it gets in the way. It hinders human communication because the humans have to spend their attention interacting with the technology rather than each other.  If the “gold standard” in human communications is the face-to-face meeting, then the more transparent the technology of telecommunications the more customer sacrifice is reduced –  the more the technology “works exactly as needed.”

While professors, doctors and business people have different specific needs here, we can still boil down the “works exactly as needed” idea to reveal the elements common to all:

  • Transparency of the user interface: How much does using the technology take your mind off of the subject matter of the class or meeting?
  • Intimidation: When the technology appears to be complex, people fear that they’re going to either break it, or look foolish while trying to use it.
  • Incompatibilities or inconsistencies between connected rooms: For example, one room supports the use of an electronic white board and the other does not.
  • Slow response to innovation in consumer technology:  I get used to using my iPad for so many things in my personal life. I can do videoconferencing with it!  But how long does it take for my company to allow my iPad to join in a company videoconference? Answer: WAY too long.

We need to figure out how to address these deficiencies.  Addressing them is important – but beyond the scope of this article.  However Pine and Gilmore offer some guiding principles that should be used in that process:

  • Customize the user experience to their needs.
  • Reduce customer sacrifice by customization and adding “customer surprise.”

Customization helps because, to quote the authors, “designing for the average is the root cause of customer sacrifice.”

A customized videoconference experience today is labor-intensive, thus very expensive to do.  This is true for scheduling, as well as using videoconference systems.  But the truth is that companies in other disciplines who get  mass customization right, have figured out a way to do it in an automated way. The most common way is to gather usage information from users (Think about the advertising that happens in the free Gmail accounts.  The ads that appear are relevant to the Gmail user because the system looks for keywords in the email messages.  When I write an email to my friend describing a new recipe for cooking pork ribs, I soon start seeing ads for recipe books and for meat sales.)  This kind of customization through data mining is huge across the Internet.  But do we gather usage information from our videoconference users so as to make their next use more suited to their needs? No. We don’t.

How about customer surprise? What we’re talking about here are pleasant surprises.  Quoting The Experience Economy:

“Contrasted with both customer satisfaction and sacrifice, when companies stage customer surprise they exploit the difference between what the customer gets to perceive and what the customer expects to get. . . . Rather than merely meeting expectations (by providing satisfaction) or setting new ones (by reducing sacrifice), companies deliberately attempt to transcend expectations.”  Imagine the pleasant surprise to a VC participant when they show up and find that the camera angles and presets they used last time are ready and waiting for them now.  What would it feel like if the room “knew” that they prefer to use a document camera rather than PowerPoint and was already configured for that when they arrived? Wouldn’t it be great to see only the places that I call in the address book when I begin to dial my call? I don’t need to see dozens of other entries there which are irrelevant to me.

At the end of the day, what the videoconferencing industry needs are systems which are flexible enough, and easy and transparent enough to operate to allow for customization of the environment.  Customer surprise will follow because these easy, flexible systems will make it possible for operations staff to stage exactly the kind of experience that their customers want and need.  And that gets back to the original problem: today, systems do not work as needed.


In my previous entry on “What do you expect of your videoconferencing investment?” my concluding exhortation is that since videoconferencing is a more visceral, experiential medium for interaction than ever before it needs to be managed in a new and visionary way; a way which manages the experience rather than the services that make videoconferencing possible.

Managing experiences is a different paradigm from managing services and requires a different lexicon. Let us start with the term “managing.”  In the book, The Experience Economy, authors Pine and Gilmore call this “staging the experience.”  They explain that companies that stage compelling experiences provide greater value to their customers as compared to ones which merely provide a service.  They offer the example of a birthday cake.  It used to be that Mom would bake a cake from scratch – the ingredients (eggs, flour, sugar, butter and milk) are commodities, and Mom’s effort produces the cake.  That cake is one component of the whole birthday celebration.  All of the other pieces – the invitations to the guests, the decorations, the singing of “Happy Birthday To You” – all happen because Mom makes it happen.

Later when companies like General Mills packaged the ingredients into cake mixes and canned frosting, it cost an order of magnitude more than making from scratch but was so much more convenient! Moms gladly shelled out the extra dough (pun intended) for these goods.  But the rest of the party arrangements were still on Mom’s shoulders.

Jump ahead a few years and Mom’s job was made even easier.  For an additional fee she could buy a whole cake – fully baked, frosted and personalized with her daughter’s name written on it. Though this service costs another order of magnitude more than the cake mix, it was worth it because it allowed her to focus on the other aspects of a great birthday party.

So what does Mom do now when birthday time rolls around?  Today the whole event is outsourced to Chuck E. Cheese and other companies that stage an experience for the birthday revelers.  Again the price tag on a birthday party has gone up, but Mom feels that the convenience and the great experience is worth it.

Commodities are extracted and provided. Goods are made and consumed. Services are managed and delivered. Experiences are staged and, well, experienced.

Videoconferencing experiences should be staged. Anything less than that takes away from their potential to enhance and transform business communication and collaboration.

The Experience Realms

The first step down the path of staging videoconferencing experiences is to understand that “staging experiences is not about entertaining [participants], it’s about engaging them.” [Pine & Gilmore, The Experience Economy]  An experience engages guests on many dimensions, but two of the most important are: guest participation¸ and connection between the event and the guests.

“[With regard to the level of guest participation,] at one end of the spectrum lies passive participation, where customers do not directly affect or influence the performance. Such participants include symphony goers, who experience the event as pure observers or listeners. At the other end of the spectrum lies active participation, in which customers personally affect the performance or event that yields the experience. These participants include skiers, who actively participate in creating their own experience. But even people who turn out to watch a ski race are not completely passive; simply by being there, they contribute to the visual and aural event that others experience.

“The second … dimension of experience describes the kind of connection, or environmental relationship, that unites customers with the event or performance. At one end of this spectrum lies absorption–occupying a person’s attention by bringing the experience into the mind – at the other end immersion – becoming physically (or virtually) a part of the experience itself. In other words, if the experience ‘goes into’ the guest, as when watching TV, then he is absorbing the experience. If, on the other hand, the guest ‘goes into’ the experience, as when playing a virtual reality game, then he is immersed in the experience.” [Experience Economy, Chapter 2, “Setting the Stage”]

The authors go on to describe that crossing these two dimensions create four “realms” of experience:

  • Active participation + Absorption = Educational
  • Active participation + Immersion = Escapist
  • Passive participation + Absorption = Entertainment
  • Passive participation + Immersion = Esthetic

Pine & Gilmore's "Four Experience Realms"

While these four realms are mutually compatible and distinct, staged experiences do not always fit neatly into one or the other. In fact it is the blurring of the edges between the realms that make for a more compelling experience.  Consider how TV documentaries have grown into docudramas – adding an entertainment dimension to an educational one creates a richer, more engaging experience (“edutainment”).

With regard to videoconferencing it seems obvious that on the active/passive dimension the experience should fall squarely in the active end.  BUT there is more than meets the eye. The best experiences involve elements of all four realms. There may be some passive participants in a videoconference, but why go to a meeting of this sort (whether in-person or virtual) if you are not there to participate?  So how about the absorption/immersion dimension?   Videoconferencing experiences can fall anywhere along this continuum.  As an example, consider the physical difference between a desktop videoconferencing system and an immersive telepresence suite.  The latter is more likely to create an immersion experience than the former.  (I am not necessarily equating an “immersive” room to an immersion experience¸ but I think that an immersive telepresence suite makes that experience much more likely to occur.)

Understanding the relevant Experience Economy dimensions for the videoconferencing experience is the start to understanding how to manage it.   What remains now is to understand the implications of these realms and how to  stage those kinds of experiences; blurring the lines between the realms in order to create a more engaging experience.

Education and Collaboration

“With educational experiences the guest … absorbs the events unfolding before him . . . Education involves the active participation of the individual.  To truly inform a person and increase his knowledge and/or skills, educational events must actively engage the mind and/or the body.” [Experience Economy, Chapter 2, “Setting the Stage”].  What the authors are describing is an emerging model for education where “the students are active players.”  In other words, the students and instructors collaborate to create the educational experience.

Videoconferencing is used a lot for educational experiences, although the poorer experiences have the students in a more “classic,” passive role.  This same is true of business and administrative meetings which use the same technology. The common element here is collaboration.  The best educational experiences as well as the best meeting experiences are ones where everyone actively participates (whether or not videoconferencing technology is used) creating a collaborative effort.  Effective staging of the videoconferencing experience creates an environment which encourages collaboration.  In practical terms this means that every component of the experience, from conference room cleaning and set up, to food service, to the technology operations must be executed with close attention to detail.  Further, focusing on the technology, it must be configured such that its usage is natural to human interactions.

An example of this is the placement of the computer graphics screens in immersive telepresence suites. In the HP Halo room, computer graphics is displayed on a large screen above the “far end” video monitors.  HP Halo Meeting Room

In a Cisco Telepresence suite this same graphics monitor is located below the video monitors.

Cisco Telepresence Room

In a Tandberg (well, Tandberg/Cisco nowadays) suite the monitor is embedded into the desktop in front of the local participants.

Tandberg Telepresence Room

The Polycom suites are similarly configured.

Polycom Telepresence Room

So which location is more natural to human communication? The key is found in the paradigm of the personal computer desktop.  The windows on a computer desktop mimic papers laying on a physical desk.  People are used to looking down at their desk to examine documents;  thus placing the computer graphics screens in a telepresence suite in the desk in front of the participants is more natural than placing it elsewhere.  It is less distracting and is easier to see.

Managing compelling videoconferencing experiences means staging experiences with equally detailed attention to the rest of the components as to the placement  of the computer graphics screen.

Escapist Collaboration

Pine and Gilmore characterize escapist experiences as not just about embarking from somewhere, but also as a voyage to some specific place.  Their examples range from gambling casinos to online games communities to theme parks.  The escapist nature of these experiences are pretty clear, but what about videoconferencing?  I think that videoconferencing experiences do have escapist elements – some more than others.  I have enabled a number of videoconferences for legal depositions.  Depositions run several hours if not several days.  Even when videoconferencing is not involved, a lengthy deposition takes the participants to a “different place” because the interaction between the attorneys and the deponent are intense, uninterrupted for long periods of time, and focused.  It’s kind of like the intense “place” that a college student goes while having an “all-nighter.”

Similarly, immersive telepresence suites create a special collaboration space – an “other” space – for the participants.  The goal of these suites is to remove as many of the technology distractions as possible so as to closely mimic face-to-face human interaction. I think that is a decent expectation to start with, but we really should expect much more from them.

I like to ask this question: What can an immersive telepresence suite allow a group of collaborators to do which improves upon the face-to-face experience? One simple answer is that by allowing them to collaborate without the wear and tear of traveling to meet together, minds are fresher and more present to do the work. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is clearly an escapist element involved when people travel somewhere to meet face-to-face. They travel from where they usually do business and voyage to the meeting place.  If videoconferencing mimics a face-to-face meeting, then it also mimics this escapist element of it.  When the participants enter the staged videoconference, they have escaped to a special place.  Staging a videoconference experience must allow for  and encourage this escapist element.

But that’s not all!

“The richest experiences encompass aspects of all four realms,” say Pine and Gilmore.  The authors give some compelling examples of blurring the boundaries between the realms:

  • Professional speakers [as well as teachers – T.E.], whose primary purpose is education, lace their presentations with jokes (entertainment) to keep the audience engaged.
  • Disney World engages all the senses and has escapist (“It’s a Small World” ride), educational (“EPCOT Center”), entertainment (Mickey Mouse, live and in-person), and esthetic (360 degree movie theater experiences) realms represented boldly.

The challenge in creating a rich videoconferencing experience is to blur the lines between ALL four realms in a way that is consistent with and sensitive to the needs of business and higher education – wherever videoconferencing is used.  In addition to supporting the more obvious realms of education and escapism, what kind of entertainment is acceptable in this environment? What kind of esthetic is right? (What compels participants to enter the experience, to stay, and then to come back again?)

Organizations which either use now or are planning to use videoconferencing should ask these and other similarly evocative questions. Doing so will start a conversation whose answers will help to stage visionary and transformative videoconferencing experiences.  This, I feel, is the best way to get the most bang for the buck for your investment.

Next, Customer Sacrifice in videoconferencing.


This past year I had a client whose business was growing and was going to occupy another half-dozen rooms on the floor adjacent to her current space.  The new space was to have a new conference room with a new videoconference system installed in it.  Over several weeks’ time she and I and one other stakeholder pored over the floor plans, walked through the unfinished rooms, and tried to imagine which of two or three rooms would be best for the conference room.   Finally, we made our decision and were ready to start planning how the audiovisual technology would be installed.

And then we changed our minds on the room.  And picked a new one.

And then we changed again.

And then . . . well we finally agreed on the best option (we hoped).

There were so many things to consider: existing windows and lighting fixtures, how close the conference room was to other offices and how much noise would travel between adjacent rooms, where the doors are located with respect to the “front” (where the videoconference camera was). We spent a lot of time in the room measuring, imagining, listening, making noise, and considering colors for the walls. We were in the room at different times of day to notice lighting changes. We even had to consider the noise of the Chicago L tracks which nearly grazed the side of the buiding just outside the office windows.  We were exhausted and stressed – a lot of thinking went into the selecting of the room, but we were finally over that hurdle.

We were now ready to plan for the technology to be installed.  My client had seen a great AV installation in a colleague’s office and so wanted to have the same AV integrator do the work for her.  I called them and asked them to send over a sales engineer to help us get the design and installation process going.   We all gathered in the soon-to-be-new conference room and began to discuss the specifics: what walls would be removed, where the camera should be, where the equipment rack would be stashed, and so on.  We had been there working on these things for a good thirty minutes. Then during a lull in the conversation, we heard the sound of a door opening somewhere out in the hallway outside the office suite, some shoes clicking on a tile floor, and then the VERY LOUD WHIRRRRRRR of a high-speed hand dryer blowing air at mach 2 to dry off someones hands!

We all looked at each other – the sound seemed to come from right next door to the conference room.  We could even feel the wall vibrating!  What was there? What was going on?

The client piped up and said, “Oh yeah, the women’s room on this floor is on the other side of this wall… Uh oh . . .”  We were sunk!  The hand dryer was too loud and the walls too thin for us to even consider using this room for a conference room (let alone videoconferencing!).  How had we missed this with all the time that we had spent looking at the floor plan, in addition to all the time we had actually spent in the room?  It turns out that that women’s room is not used very often, and we had just never been in the room at the right time before now to hear how the noise travelled.  It’s a good thing that we heard it then; we could have wasted a lot of time and energy if we hadn’t!

Well we spent the next hour or so looking at ways to mitigate the noise problem.  We thought that we could improve the situation a lot, but could not really be certain that enough of the noise would be blocked.  In the end we opted to go with a different room.

It just goes to show that a good host or conference center manager always needs to know where the bathrooms are!


In my consulting practice I expose the uninitiated to videoconferencing on a regular basis. These are predominantly business owners and executives who have, at the most, used Skype or another free videoconferencing platform prior to meeting with me. When they experience business-class videoconferencing – regardless of whether it is an inexpensive desktop system, a higher-end conference room system, or a full-blown immersive telepresence suite – their reaction is the same: “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It was amazing! The audio was so clear, and the picture so good that it felt like I was carrying on a normal conversation with Georgina. I did not expect videoconferencing to be like that!”

In the industry we know that this reaction is common. So common, in fact, that the industry’s mantra has become, “You just have to experience it.” Seeing really is believing.
Regardless of whether your company has already invested in videoconferencing or is thinking about doing it in the future, you should ask yourself more than just “Why do we want it,” or “How well is it working for us.” You need to start out by asking what you expect from it. Managing expectations is nothing new in business. In the case of videoconferencing, it is the perfect place start.
Here are some of the classic expectations. Which ones are on your list?

  1. We expect to see a reduction in travel costs as videoconferencing replaces some amount of travel.
  2. We expect to see an improvement in productivity, measured in ways that make sense to our industry: Reduced time-to-market for new products, increased productivity of individuals who now travel less, increased effectiveness amongst teams with remote members.
  3. We expect to have improved communication with our clients.
  4. We expect our technical conference services manager to monitor and assess the “health” of the videoconferencing service. Measuring things like percentage of on-time and trouble-free video connections, accurate scheduling of resources, excellence in execution of all tasks associated with a video connection (from scheduling, to technical, to food service, to customer satisfaction measurements).
  5. We expect a short time-to-resolution for technical and service (personnel) issues.
  6. We expect satisfied “customers” – whether internal staff or external visitors, customers and clients.

If this sounds like the expectations your organization has, congratulations! You’ve achieved the status quo for the videoconferencing industry. But if you have made, or are about to make, a big investment in this technology you should expect a higher, visionary level of performance.

The status quo will not get you there.

What the status quo does is to manage and fine-tune the videoconferencing service: the set of services associated with scheduling, preparation of the conference and class rooms, set up and connection to the remote sites, proactive monitoring of connections for issues, and so on. This model has served enterprise-level videoconferencing well for years. But it is no longer good enough.

My theory is that the technology is now so good that it has minimized the distractions to human communication which were part and parcel of videoconferencing in the past. It is more transparent. Years ago, we put up with small video screens, fuzzy images, standard definition (SD) video quality, varying qualities of monaural audio, freezing images, small delays in interaction that you have to get used to, hard to operate computer graphics sharing, and so on. But now all of those aspects have improved making the systems much easier and more intuitive to use. The result is that the technology does not get in the way of communicating like it did before. It feels more like a natural, normal conversation; so now we tend to talk about how it feels: The Videoconferencing Experience.

This higher level of experience suggests a new, higher style of management. Videoconferencing in the enterprise is no longer a set of services to be managed. It is a visceral, experiential medium for interaction and should be managed in a new and visionary fashion. It is time to stop managing the videoconferencing service and to start managing the videoconferencing experience.

Part 2 in the “What do you expect” series will expound on this concept.


What do you call an employee of a large, multiple-location company who is great at their job, whom everyone knows, and whom – because they just happen to be at the right place at the right time – gets a load of new responsibilities dumped on them without any extra pay?

A sucker?

A victim of “desperate times, desperate measures?”

A grumbly worker?

While all of these may be right, there is one more possibility – Videoconference Site Coordinator (SC).

The SC is part greeter, part scheduler, part concierge, part technician, and part “go-fer.” She is the first person that a videoconference participant meets and the first person they call when they need anything. The SC is the critical link between the participant, the people and technology that make their meeting-at-a-distance possible.

The Site Coordinator:

  • maintains the schedule for one or more videoconference rooms (including non-VC uses, too).
  • knows enough about the equipment and technology in the VC room to operate it and to resolve basic technical issues.
  • has a “client facing” demeanor.
  • is part of a distributed team who is there to serve the client.

So, who is this person? What kind of person usually fills this role?

In most cases, they are existing employees with a lot on their plate, already; and frequently an administrative or executive assistant whose job description did not include any of these tasks. The SC responsibilities tend to be something that they didn’t “sign up for.” Their reaction to the new burden varies between, “Geez – this is just what I needed!” to, “Man! This is some pretty cool stuff. I love it!”

When I worked at Texas A&M University’s videoconference network (TTVN) a large part of my early work was the installation of new videoconference systems in remote areas of the state. Preparatory work that went on prior to my arrival identified three people who would be the SC, the Site Technician and the Administrative Contact. By the time I arrived, these folks had been tagged with these new responsibilities. Their reactions varied between the two extremes above, and they were not shy about letting me know where they fell on that spectrum!

I traveled to one of the remote Agricultural Extension Service offices to install a new VC system and met Karen. She was an administrative assistant, had the new SC responsibilities dumped on her, and was wondering just what this would mean for her. How much additional work would it be? How much training would she have to go through? She was unsure.

The great thing about Karen was her intrepid spirit! She wanted to learn new things and was interested in this cool technology that brought a whole new world to the office. In fact, she was so interested that while I was there installing the equipment, she would come by to hang out with me to learn how it all worked. In fact, she was so into the technology that, although there was another person named for it, she became the de facto Technical Contact because she had an aptitude for it and wanted to be more involved. What a great find! She was one of the most able technicians I worked with.

Official Duties of The Site Coordinator

  • Scheduler. The SC is part of a distributed team of SCs across the organization. They work together to schedule VC rooms for use. Exactly how scheduling is done varies greatly from pencil-and-paper, to enterprise-wide calendars, to specialized scheduling applications.
  • Greeter. Inasmuch as the SC is usually the first person that a VC participant meets when they arrive, they are the most significant client facing role. They greet, they give directions, and then make sure that the participants have everything that they need, including office supplies and food service. They assure that the VC system is working and show them how to call for help.
  • Concierge. Oftentimes a VC participant will have traveled some distance to be there, is not familiar with the territory and will need some guidance. The SC is knowledgeable about restaurants, convenience stores, and other services available in the area.
  • Troubleshooter. The SC is often responsible for dialing or answering the video call for the participants. Since the vast majority of problems that arise with a VC connection happen at the start, the SC should be able to handle the most common issues (“I can’t hear the other side.” “The screen doesn’t come on.” “I cannot see my PowerPoint presentation.”)
  • Go-fer. By the time that the participant’s connection is up and running, the SC is often the only local staff person that they have met. It is common for the participant to contact the SC for a variety of assistance during their connection.

The first task, scheduling room use, can be a huge challenge as it deals with room “ownership” (as in, the attorney or executive whose office is closest to the conference room feels like he or she has dibs on it at all times), varying priorities for room use (Will a technical staff VC be “bumped” when a doctor wants to use the room at the same time for another VC? Will the doctor need to go to a different VC room, instead?), and so on.

The SC has to juggle local scheduling issues along with communication to the other SCs when the local changes have an impact on the other SCs’ rooms (as in, “Site A was going to connect with sites B, C, and D. But site D is now unavailable, and site E must be used, instead.” The SCs for all these rooms need to be notified of the change.) This is why the SCs are a distributed work team. And as a distributed work team they should have regular communication, meetings, planning sessions, etc. just as any other work team would. The great thing about this is that they are bound together by a technology that makes collaboration across distances easy. That is, SCs should have regular meetings with one another, using the VC technology that they have at their disposal. The not-so-great thing is that although this seems like an obvious thing to do – I find that it is rarely done. Or, at least, rarely done in a consistent way.

In the same way that a GREAT administrative assistant is a huge asset, so is a GREAT Site Coordinator, and the program which supports them in their role.

Comments Off on Hello Galveston! Hello TTVN Users Conference!

In mid-February I attended the TTVN Users Conference in Galveston, Texas. TTVN is the Texas A&M University (TAMU)-owned videoconference network which serves the state of Texas and the TAMU System, and is also my former employer. This year marked the 20th anniversary of TTVN, and I was invited to come to be part of the celebration. I jumped at the opportunity to hang out with my old friends, co-workers, and colleagues. And since the location was the beautiful Moody Gardens Conference Center on Galveston Island, I had a great break from the nasty Chicago winter!

I expected that the conference would be, for me, more “hanging out,” and less business. After all, it is focused on the needs of the users of the network, which are predominantly state and university employees. Inasmuch as my business these days is more commercially-oriented, I did not expect the conference’s content to be terribly relevant.

I was wrong.

I am glad that I was wrong!

I did renew old friendships, and caught up with old friends and colleagues. But since the videoconferencing and unified communications community is relatively small, there is a good deal of crossover between my colleagues in the educational, non-profit, and for-profit sectors. So I met some great folks that I hope to do business with, and learned some cool and relevant things:

  1. IPv6 videoconference demonstration. The opening address of the conference featured a demonstration of TAMU’s recent IPv6 work with Polycom videoconferencing equipment. We had a connection from the conference in Galveston to Cheryl Cato, Associate Director for Computing and Infrastructure (and also a good friend), back in College Station. At the end of the high-bandwidth call, they pulled up the video call information screen of the Polycom system in Galveston to show that it was, indeed, using an IPv6 connection. Nicely done, folks!
  2. IPv6 – a.k.a “You remember Y2K? Well, this isn’t going to be as easy as that.” The conference featured a general session with Richard Jimmerson of ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers – Honestly, I thought that this was going to be a pretty dry presentation. I mean, after all, it’s as simple as having an IP address for your computer (or videoconferencing equipment) that’s long and complicated, versus short and sweet, right? Well, it’s about that, but there is WAY more to the story than just that. Richard gives a really compelling presentation which, after you hear it, will likely turn you into an apologist for IPv6! I will write more about this in future blog posts.
  3. Avaya’s WebAlive product.This was the first time that I’d seen this product. The idea is that it is a platform that can be used for webinars, training, and so on, but uses a “virtual office” look and feel rather than the somewhat common look of a WebEx or GoToMeeting type of system. In WebAlive the environment that you create for your presentations, virtual meetings, trainings, and so on looks like an office, or a room, or a convention center. Once that environment is created, you navigate through the place in a way similar to a “first person shooter” game. You can also see the other participants (in the form of an avatar that they create) in the space.I could go on and on with writing about it, but it is a lot easier to envision by looking at Avaya’s demo. Give it a look-see!
  4. Meraki’s “cloud networked” wireless access points. One of my colleagues from Texas A&M and, later, Polycom, had moved on to work with Meraki and was manning their booth amongst the exhibitors. Brian Sellersshowed me Meraki’s access point product which is managed via the “cloud” and which gives a load of great tools to your network administrator. A really neat and needed paradigm for making wireless network engineering and maintenance easy and accessible.
  5. Texans still line dance.That’s all I’m going to say.
  6. Segway. I had my first Segway jaunt all around Galveston’s Strand, courtesy of SegCity Segway Tours. It was late at night, and there were practically no other signs of life around. It was great fun, and I didn’t run into (or off of) anything!Thanks to all of my former colleages who make Texas A&M’s TTVN Users Conference a great and fun time. I’ll be back next year!

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