Mon, 02 Jun 2003

Scared to travel? Try videoconferencing

Vishnu Mahmud, Contributor, Jakarta,

With terrorism and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the headlines, business travel is no longer an option for many corporations. Yet, meeting face-to-face is vital to begin and maintain business relationships. It's not so much as hearing the voices but seeing the body language. The smallest movements by a person can speak volumes to the tutored eye.

So why not videoconferencing? People have always dismissed video communication technology, saying it is not ready for prime time but if properly planned, it can be a highly effective tool. In addition, the costs of a videoconferencing session is a lot less then business travel that includes visa fees, airline tickets, hotel costs and lost productivity during travel.

So why not try it?

There are quite a few places in Jakarta that offers videoconferencing facilities, such as C.E.O. Suites ( or world-class hotels such as the Grand Hyatt ( or the Inter-Continental MidPlaza (

Said Ma'ruf, assistant business center manager for the Jakarta Inter-Continental MidPlaza, said the hotel has hosted dozens of videoconferences on their premises. In partnership with Indosat, the hotel is ready to host any videoconference request from clients and can assist in planning the meeting.

Hotels can be an ideal videoconferencing location as they have other facilities that can be useful for a power meeting, such as restaurants, spas and other hospitality amenities.

Videoconferencing involves two hardware units communicating between high-speed telephone lines. The technology has matured, and comes with a variety of facilities that can assist in conveying key messages to clients or partners.

Most countries have videoconferencing facilities so it should not be too difficult to locate an appropriate business/communications center near the other party. Check the internet if your client/partner overseas needs assistance. A telecommunications provider usually has one available.

Here are a few tips for hosting (or receiving) a videoconference meeting:

* Find out the other party's hardware capabilities and agree on a bandwidth. The higher the bandwidth (e.g. 384 Kbps), the better the quality of the picture shown. However, if your hardware supports a higher bandwidth while the other party can only sustain a lower one, then the connection will default to the lowest common denominator.

* Always make sure you have a few contact numbers (a landline if possible, mobile phones sometimes are out of reach) of the other party overseas in case of problems with the connection.

* A few days prior to the call, insist on a test of the video conferencing equipment by calling the other party. Both parties should try to call and receive to find the optimum audio and video levels.

* Make certain there is no confusion on the time of the call. In order for video calls to connect, both ends must have their equipment turned on. A surprisingly large number of videoconferencing calls fail to connect because one party was not ready to receive.

* Most videoconferencing fees are by the hour (if you initiate the call) so make sure an agenda is drawn up and approved in advance.

* Some videoconference hardware has special features such as rotating cameras and zoom capabilities. This allows users at both ends to see clearly who is talking. In addition, premium facilities also allow you to connect a laptop to share presentations for all. Optimize your use of them!

* Have a technician (or someone who is familiar with the system) to stand by in the room to ensure the video conferencing proceeds smoothly. If nothing else, they can operate the camera to pan and zoom at the appropriate speaker (if applicable). This is very effective in conveying body language.

* When talking, address the camera that is usually located by the TV screen to ensure the illusion of a face-to-face conversation (zooming in would be nice).

* Usually, videoconferencing microphones are highly sensitive and could catch the slightest whisper. Don't shuffle papers unnecessarily.

* If you have other visuals, such as books or product samples, prepare them in a specific area where the camera can zoom in on it. Have adequate lighting prepared.

* Make sure to have a backup teleconference hardware and an IDD line just in case the videoconference fails to connect or disconnects prematurely.

Although it may be difficult at first to get used to this new kind of technology, videoconferencing does offer tremendous benefits. More people can participate in meetings instead of being restricted by travel budgets, no more long lines for visa or security checks, and definitely no travel delays or lost luggage! Of course, you can't go sightseeing after the meeting, but in these times of crisis, better safe then sorry.