Over the years I have participated in hundreds – if not thousands – of meetings via video conferencing, but not all my experiences were the same or equally beneficial.
There were some good, some bad, and some ‘just ok’ meetings. I have looked back at each of those experiences and have found there is a common theme to why some meetings are better than others.
Before revealing what I see as the common theme, let’s look at some meeting types in ranked order of suitability (or quality of experience):
1 The Head to Head
This is a meeting where there are only two participants (sometimes referred to as a ‘point-to-point’ call). Without doubt, this is the best meeting type: it’s intimate, we have each other’s full attention, and there are no distractions.
2 The Linchpin
This is usually a meeting of 6-10 participants, and the person vital to the meeting – the Linchpin – attends via video. They are critical to the progress of the meeting’s outcome and they spend a lot of time leading the discussion, and have the full attention of the group.
3 The Dick Turpin (Stand and Deliver)
This is similar to the Linchpin but is more of a lecture style meeting/event due to the audience size (one expert: large audience), and is often described as ‘Lecture Mode’. There is one focus of attention and the person delivering the presentation or speech has the full attention of their audience. This type of meeting works best where the audience can see the presenter as well as all other audience members – especially if there is Q&A.
The meeting types that I have found that aren’t as conducive to being conducted over video are:
4 The Reverse Linchpin*
Once again we have a team type meeting, with a group gathered in a single location (eg boardroom or huddle room) and one participant that has joined the meeting externally via video. In this instance the Linchpin is situated within the group. Whilst the remote party is a willing participant, they are somewhat distant, and may become disengaged as the majority of interaction (intended or not) is amongst the group, and consists primarily of lots of cross-table discussion.
5 Five tables of Five (Feeding time at the trough)*
This meeting type usually consist of two or more groups of participants, and is probably the least productive meeting type, as there can be a higher level of distraction, and in many cases lots of side-bar conversations that make it harder to concentrate.
If I were to have listed the above meeting types in rank order as ‘in-person’ (or ‘in-the-flesh’) meetings, the ranking would be the same. That is why I say: “Forget about video” to find its place of greatest value.
For communications to be engaging they do not need to be ‘in-person’, but they must be ‘face to face’. The first three meeting types listed are more conducive to natural face to face communications, whilst the other two meetings types are less conducive, and that is the common theme.
When I discuss ‘use case’ with customers, the first question that comes to mind is: “If I were to have this type of meeting via video (as I usually would in person), would I consider it an environment conducive for a productive meeting?” You should do the same. If you consider the meeting type to be ineffective and a less than ideal experience in-person, stop and think what options are available to make the setting more conducive to natural communications and an improved meeting experience.
*Note: placing the camera along the longest meeting room axis may increase the amount of face to face communications, but may limit the number of participants.