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Surviving the Conference Call: There is a Better Way

Cisco Employee

Wall Street Journal writer Sue Shellenbarger makes some great points in her recent article “Surviving the Conference Call.” She points out many of the downsides of not collaborating in person — people multitasking during calls, bad audio, the inability to build rapport.

I remember those days well. For me, they’re in the past because I use video on nearly every call I make, whether it’s a group conference call or a 1:1 conversation with a co-worker.

Shellenbarger reports that about 65% of all conferencing is still done via audio calls, according to Wainhouse Research. To some, video may seem like the future, but it’s really available and affordable here and now. It’s moving from an executive-only tool to something available to everyone.

At first I was surprised that Wainhouse predicts time spent in audio conferences in the U.S. will continue to grow 9.6% a year through 2017. But in context, it’s pretty slow growth compared to predictions for video conferencing (check out Figure 14).

True, video is a new concept for many of us. Just the idea of being heard and seen is a hurdle for some people. I used to hide from cameras at parties and now I use one throughout the day. The benefits quickly outweighed any awkwardness. I found right away that the ability to have eye contact with people and see their physical reactions during a conversation makes a significant difference in the communication.

And sometimes it’s just amusing. I’ve identified some amusing characters in the video meeting world.

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  • The Cruncher: A veteran user who has become so comfortable on video that he or she will not only snack, but eat a full meal — hopefully on mute (Guilty as charged).
  • Business on the Top & Party on the Bottom: No, not the mullet, but the colleague who dresses professionally from waist up, with pajamas or exercise gear on the bottom (You know you’ve done it).
  • The Hoarder: Someone who has anything and everything displayed behind them, often resulting in the need to put up a curtain or use an extreme close-up of their face to hide the background.
  • The Interloper: A teleworker whose dog, cat, or kids occasionally make inappropriate noises, jump onto their laps, or pop in to ask a question (Fido, meet my new boss).
  • The Poker Face: Some people may as well be on audio only because there’s no way to read their facial expressions, or lack thereof (I am fully aware I would be a horrible poker player. You can see when I am excited, upset, and even bored).

On a more serious note, I know for a fact that video is just part of how I work. I will never be able to work for a company that doesn’t embrace video technology (and I am not alone in that requirement).

The reality is that video is now out of the corner office, and available in every office — and even on PCs, tablets, and smart phones. And with the right vendor, the user experience can be consistent and seamless from the browser to the boardroom. 


So for Sue and others who believe that audio conferencing is still the way to go, I would like to point out a quick fact from a recent ZK Research Enterprise Video Market Trends Report: 73% of meetings end faster with better results when done over video. Personally, I am all for quicker and more meaningful discussions.