Meeting activity high, but teleconferences, webinars gaining

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Published: July 21,2008

Technology can help reduce the miles that separate people, and that is becoming increasingly important now that it costs so much more to get from Point A to Point B. Yet there is still no replacing face-to-face contacts and the rapport that is developed when people enjoy events such as banquets and social mixers.

It is unlikely that teleconferencing will replace meetings and conventions anytime soon, said Tina Conway Smith, director of sales, Jackson Marriott,

“People are concerned about gas prices, but right now it hasn’t affected our business at all,” Smith said. “I really don’t see a big decline. Business is pretty flat the last year, and our goal is always to be up year over year. But I can’t complain. Business is good. A lot of our conventions, because we have so much meeting space, are booked a year or two out. Those meetings are all being held. Everything is good.”

The Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond has actually seen increases in business for both conferences and teleconferences.

“As far as sales meetings for regular clients, we have actually seen an increase,” said Peggy Lofton, director of Eagle Ridge Conference Center. “A lot of our companies are local so fuel prices might not be that big a factor. We have noticed an increase in calls from people interested in teleconferences. We are in a huge upgrading project with teleconferencing. We are replacing and upgrading everything in our Global Room where we do all the videoconferencing.”

The existing videoconferencing equipment was about ten years old and getting obsolete when a vital piece of equipment broke.

“We are now in the process of upgrading the whole thing,” said Dr. John Woods, vice president of economic and development training, Eagle Ridge Conference Center. “So we are going to a modern, more up-to-date system of equipment that includes flat screen monitors. We do a quite a bit of business in videoconferencing. There tends to be a pretty high demand for that in certain businesses.”

Videoconferencing is particularly popular with attorneys who can get legal depositions without traveling to the city where the witness resides. Another client is a surgeon from Monroe, LA, who uses the videoconferencing to do demonstrations of surgical techniques. It has also been used frequently for live training demonstrations.

Woods said it is not only because of the expense of travel and gathering people together that videoconferencing is so popular.

“It is just a much more efficient way to communicate with people in groups, particularly in a training environment,” he said.

Carolyn Rogers, vice president of customer relations for CommuniGroup in Jackson, said it has become easier and less expensive to do teleconferencing. She has seen a trend to cut travel costs and use the convenience of teleconferencing.

“The convenience of the service allows you to set conference calls at your schedule rather than pre arranging operator assistance,” Rogers said. “You just notify the parties you want to participate in the call, and set it up specifying the number of participants, and length. It is a really good tool for sales representatives and others who are out in the field to keep everyone tied together.”

Her tips for a good teleconference include advising participants to minimize their background noise. Sometimes speakerphones pick up a lot of background noise that can reduce the quality of the call. She also recommends moderators give basic protocol at the beginning of the call like asking each people to identify themselves before speaking.

Even when roll call is taken at the beginning of a call, it can be difficult to make sure everyone is listening carefully. There can be a tendency to multi-task like answering e-mails or doing other office tasks while on the call. That one reason why “webinars” are becoming increasingly popular, said Sue Sperry, spokesperson, AT&T Mississippi. Webinars are a live voice conference call combined with interactive information displayed on the computer screen.

“The main thing is to keep participants engaged,” Sperry said. “Teleconferencing is more like a lecture than a meeting. To have effective remote meetings, engagement is really important. The webinar is really very much the trend.”

Sperry said while face-to-face meetings remain the most effective way to meet on important topics, if a company decides to reducing travel by 25% because of current state of gas prices, business communication doesn’t have to suffer when there are many new and interactive ways so meetings can be effective and engaging.

“Face-to-face is important,” she said. “But when you can’t, webinars are a good solution. It is really the latest and greatest thing. There are other sophisticated products out there. Look at everything that is out there, and see what is going to work for you.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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