More and more businesses are leveraging video conferences as a critical component of their productivity. A recent study indicated that more than one in five companies use video teleconferencing in their day-to-day affairs, and over 39 percent use it at least weekly. Video teleconferences, or VTCs, can help business teams collaborate more effectively, speed decision making, foster relationships, save money on travel, and maintain critical internal communications among geographically distributed parts of an enterprise. However, a poorly executed VTC can be just as unproductive or potentially harmful for your company and its clients as a bad face-to-face meeting. Here are four tips to ensure that you get the most out of your next video teleconference.

1. Set the Agenda

VTC agendas are as important as standard agendas, if not more so; you may only have connectivity between your various participants for a limited period of time. Ensure you make the most of your video teleconference by setting a clear agenda, preferably with the amount of time allocated to each topic. Once you’re satisfied with the agenda, send it out to all of the VTC participants so they have it as well. During the meeting, keep a copy of the agenda beside you, and use it as a guide to navigate through each topic. As they say, fail to plan, plan to fail.

2. Make a List

If you are running a large video teleconference, particularly one with participants you may not know that well, ask all of your outstations to provide you a list of the names of everyone who will participate, along with their function within the organization they represent. Use that list to do a “station check” prior to the start of VTC, and keep it beside you (right next to your agenda) throughout the meeting, to assist whenever you need to reach out to a participant for their input or expertise.

3. Facilitate Participation and Engagement

There is nothing worse than conducting a video teleconference and seeing participants in the outstations disengaged, or worse, totally ignoring the meeting altogether in sidebar conversations. As the VTC facilitator, you often have to work to stave this behavior off. Keep participants engaged by reaching out to them at unexpected times to provide feedback or insight on the topic at hand. If the behavior continues, you could politely advise everyone in the meeting to pay attention (especially if it is an internal company VTC), or ask for some professional decorum. If this sort of behavior is routine, you may want to think about the validity of your meeting agenda next time around, or the number of participants who are actually required for the meeting.

4. Professionalism on Display

Ensure that any VTCs you conduct portray your company with a level of professionalism and confidence that meet your (or your boss’s) expectations, Prior to conducting the video teleconference, do a quick test: turn the camera system to self-view, and project the conference room image up onto your own screens. Is the image you see what you want portrayed to external participant?  Look at the table, the walls, and everything else that participants are going to see. Is the room tidy, and are the walls devoid of anything that will distract or detract from the meeting? If not, take appropriate action to ensure that the environment of the room only amplifies the message you are attempting to convey during the meeting.

Video teleconferences have become a staple of the way we conduct business on a daily basis. If you run a company, or work in one, chances are you will leverage VTCs to accomplish your company’s daily workflow sooner or later. Taking the time to set a good agenda and keep track of the participants can help make the meeting more effective. Keeping participants engaged, and projecting a professional appearance, can further make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful video teleconference.

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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