Anyone who has sat in enough teleconferences has experienced a special kind of meeting hell. The discussion drifts and sags until, to try to get things back on track, the facilitator says, “John, what do you think about the proposed initiative?” Then, after an awkwardly long pause, John responds with: “Oh, sorry, what was the question again?”
Teleconferences can be a huge waste of time. But, when conducted properly, they can be both efficient and effective, even more so than face-to-face meetings. That’s right: virtual meetings can be superior to traditional physical ones. The obvious advantage of teleconferences is that they are a quick, easy, and relatively cheap means of getting people together, but there are also other unique benefits that aren’t so widely known, including the following:
- Teleconferences easily lend themselves to being recorded. Many applications like WebEx have a “record” function that will capture not just the conversation but also documents and other materials being presented. So when people miss an important meeting, they can easily catch up by playing the recording. Moreover, some advanced tools enable people to navigate through the recording so that, if they’re interested in just a particular section — for example, a discussion about the annual budgeting process — they can skip the rest of the meeting and replay just that portion.
- People can be patched in instantaneously to answer a question or offer their expertise on a particular topic. They don’t have to waste their time sitting through the entire meeting; they can participate exactly when they’re needed no matter where they’re located. All this can be done electronically at the blink of an eye, which sure beats the old way of running down the hall to find someone while everyone else sits and waits.
- Participants can easily break off into smaller groups for a quick discussion about a particular topic. This can also be done in the blink of an eye, thanks to the magic of digital communications. No more wasting time as people wander off looking for another location to chat and then slowly reconvene in the main meeting room.
But make no mistake: virtual meetings are tricky to conduct. The primary challenge is keeping everyone engaged. Cisco, which sells networking and other equipment that enable virtual communications, has studied that issue extensively
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