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Ready for Your Close-Up?

Video conferences can be efficient and cost-effective; learn how to run one the right way.

Travel costs time and money, and “conference” has practically become a four-letter word in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal. Hosting a videoconference from your desktop can be a cost-effective alternative, but managing one has its pitfalls.

Collaborative tools, such as webcams and file-sharing software, are critical to videoconferencing. But according to a recent survey for cloud-based services firm Citrix Online, technology is far from the only requirement. Consultants at the Web seminar consulting firm 1080 Group, which conducted the survey, have put together a list of effective video-conference techniques.
Eliminate distractions 
Be aware of open windows, art and other visual distractions in the camera’s line of sight and quiet potentially noisy disruptions like a ringing phone, buzzing BlackBerry and emails pinging on computer speakers. These distractions can throw you off midconference and annoy attendees. Consider the lighting of your environment, avoiding a harsh glare that can cast shadows or wash out your face. 
Set up your space
Position yourself a comfortable distance from the camera so facial expressions and hand gestures don’t seem exaggerated, but sit close enough to reach your keyboard without straining. Think about how you will move during the presentation and adjust your body language for the camera. The closer you are, for example, the larger facial and other features will appear—for better or for worse. Focus on making deliberate, smooth movements and framing them on screen. Enlist a friend or colleague to help you identify distracting behaviors like tapping or fidgeting. This confidant can flag those habits before the conference and send you an instant message during the conference if you lapse into a distracting pattern.
Focus on eye contact
While eye contact in a videoconference doesn’t have to be constant, it should be natural and purposeful. Stay present, keep your eyes within camera range and look toward the screen rather than out the window. 
Incorporate tools of engagement
Consider how you would display information on a projector, ask for a show of hands or conduct a collaborative exercise when leading an in-person meeting. Map out online activities that enable the same kind of productivity. You can share your computer desktop with the audience, conduct an online poll or set up group chats among the participants. Be aware of what attendees can see at various points during the conference, and make sure you reference only things they have access to. Before the meeting send them instructions to ensure they have full access, but reminders and guidance on what to do throughout the conference also are helpful. 
Consider mixed audiences 
If some participants are in the room, others are online and the rest call in via phone, be aware in your planning how each group will see, hear and interact. You may have to use a variety of tactics to ensure everyone is able to join in.
Last but not least, don’t forget old school presentation techniques. Even if you are the only one in the room you are still leading a group in collaborative activities. Speak slowly, clearly and engagingly, using all the traditional public speaking tools in your belt. At the end of the day, what makes someone an effective conference leader can transcend time and space. 
Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.