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As technology advances, so do the methods for meeting. One of the most common uses of technology for meetings right now is virtual attendance, or webcam. For simplicity, I'll define virtual attendance as someone using technology to attend without physically being in the room. Often a participant will use an Internet-based webcam to show their face and see the face of others in attendance. Virtual attendance could also mean participating via telephone or audio only.
Let's start with a comparison of attending via telephone versus video. Video can be an effective tool for smaller groups or one-to-one meetings, as it allows people to see facial expressions and body language, a critical component of communication. However, video works best in situations with a small number of attendees, around eight or less. In my experience, meetings with many people attending via video can become very distracting.
Also, the more video cameras you add to a meeting the higher number of technical problems you're likely to have. So generally speaking, if you have a large number of virtual attendees, I recommend you use telephone conferencing instead of video conferencing. There are downsides to telephone attendance though. While it's fairly simple for anyone to jump right into a meeting via phone, it's hard for each person to have an opportunity to be heard.
There are many great telephone conferencing options on the market that will allow a leader to see all the attendees who are on the call, allow the attendees to indicate they have something to say, and give people an opportunity to be called on one at a time. In any meeting it's the leader's job to make sure that each person has the opportunity to be heard. In a virtual setting it becomes even more important for the leader to ensure everyone has a voice.
Leaders should be especially aware of each attendee and if one person has been quiet the entire time. Ask polite, but direct questions such as, we haven't heard from you for a while, do you have any comment? Just as an effective classroom teacher wants to pay more attention to the students that may be hiding in the back of the classroom, so also should the group leader make sure that all members of the meeting are participating.
One last comment about virtual attendance, later in the course we'll discuss ground rules, such as being on time and having an agenda. Any ground rule or system that you use for face-to-face meetings also applies to virtual attendees.
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