Select the right tools, making best use of what you already have
Instant messaging is a form of real-time, online communication between two or more people based, originally, on typed text, but now extended to include the use of online audio and video. Instant messaging programs include Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk, IBM Lotus Sametime and Skype.
Web conferencing is used to conduct live meetings, training or presentations via the Internet. The extended functionality of web conferencing usually requires participants to download a special client application to their computers. Web conferencing incorporates a host of features, including online audio and video, application sharing, electronic whiteboards, shared media (such as PowerPoint presentations), text chat and polling. Web conferencing systems include Cisco WebEx, Microsoft LiveMeeting, Saba Centra, Adobe Acrobat Connect and Elluminate.
Video conferencing uses digital telecommunications to support remote meetings that employ both audio and video. The boundary between what can be achieved with video conferencing and with simpler instant messaging and web conferencing systems is increasingly blurred, although high end ‘telepresence’ systems, that provide a highly authentic, high-definition interface are still very much at the top end.
It is quite common for organisations to possess the ideal tool, but not everyone knows about it or knows how to use it. In some cases, they have been trained in how to work the controls but do not know which behavioural skills they need, nor what processes and procedures to work with.
Choosing and using the right tool is all about deciding what you need people to do together:
- Voting / Prioritising
- Reaching group decisions
- Action planning
- Documenting meetings
Then assess the level of fidelity and functionality that’s needed. Pitch too low on either scale and your online sessions may not achieve their objectives. Pitch too high and you’ll be consuming lots of unnecessary resources. Clive Shepherd has elaborated on this in his posting Functionality ot Fidelity – Choose your Weapon.
As you start to plan the support materials you might need for your meeting, it may help to divide them into three categories (I’ve borrowed these ideas from “Designing interactive webinars” by Julia Young, facilitate.com):
1) Materials and Information that participants can read and review on their own.
2) Knowledge and information that benefits from listening and questioning a subject matter expert
3) Shared knowledge and experiential learning that benefits from interaction between participants.
Knowing the type of content you have allows you to start constructing your virtual meeting into a series of segments, including pre-work and post-work.
Think of the virtual meeting as an interactive moment in time, packaged with advanced preparation and information sharing, and followed by continued reflection and action. Then you come upon the realisation that the tool you need is not just a synchronous place to talk and share images, but also a recording system, a dynamic notebook, a library, a gateway to other resources, a think-tank, a classroom, a reference tool and a virtual water cooler.
Part four of this ten-part series is about setting up your meeting. We’ll post it in a couple of days time, so do please come back.
We’re hoping you will add your own ideas to these blog items too, so we can create of it something that is representative of the experience of a wide range of practitioners and helps us all to understand what works and what doesn’t.