by Erica Driver.

This week I had a 2 ½ hour conference call with one of our clients. Normally I wouldn’t blab to the world who we work with. But I think it’s necessary here in the spirit of full disclosure — I’m about to rave about a first-time experience I had during a meeting with Microsoft using a Microsoft product called RoundTable.

A couple of my Forrester colleagues and 6 or 7 people from Microsoft were in a conference room in Redmond, Washington and I was in my home office in Rhode Island. Microsoft set up a Live Meeting Web conferencing session and had a RoundTable audio/video conferencing device on table in the meeting room. During the meeting, I had a screen like this one on my desktop (see screenshot below). It showed the PowerPoint slide we were discussing as well as a panoramic video of everyone in the conference room and a close-up of whoever was making the most noise in the room at the time. If we had been using the voice capabilities of the RoundTable device, rather than a separate conference bridge, the video close-up would have switched to whoever was speaking at the moment (including me, if I had had a Web camera on my laptop).


Now, is it just me or is it really, really hard to consistently pay attention during a long, multi-party phone conversations? I blogged about this in a post a few days ago. Here’s where the beauty of RoundTable comes in:

  • I could concentrate — I was fully engaged. Normally my eyes try to distract me from the work my ears are doing. It’s often difficult to discern who’s speaking and I have trouble making sense of silences. But this meeting was to a typical conference call as going to an IMAX movie is to listening to the radio while in your car — it’s much more likely your mind will wander while you’re listening to music and navigating the roads than when multiple senses are engaged in an immersive experience, as is the case at the Omnitheater.
  • I felt connected to the others even though we weren’t together in the same room. The Forrester team had a communication back channel open via instant messaging (as, I’m sure, did the Microsoft team). This, in combination with the audio, video, and Web conferencing, enabled me to be a stronger contributor and helped prevent me from being relegated to a gray box on the table, as often happens during meetings when most people are together in one room with just one or two dialed in on the phone.
  • Non-verbal communication was resurrected. During conference calls, so much communication gets lost in the silences between words. But as I interacted with my colleagues and the Microsoft team yesterday I could see heads nodding, people smiling or laughing silently, taking notes —  all things I would have no idea of without the video. I could see who left the room and when they returned. I guess even Microsoft is new at this — at one point in the conversation someone on the Microsoft side said during a quiet moment, "I’m feverishly taking notes." I said, "I know, I can see you" and we all got a chuckle. And sometimes when people in the room were speaking to me, I could see them looking at the phone on the table. (That probably would have been different if I was on video too.)

This session was my a-ha moment about the power of video to transform virtual meetings. It’s time for me to get a Web cam.