Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quit staring at that conference phone and change the dynamic of your meetings

Have you ever been involved in a conference call where one or more participants are in a meeting room and one or more participants are not?  Those of you in the room were likely sitting around a conference phone that looks something like this…

Those of you who were not in the meeting, dialled into an audio conference bridge.  Perhaps you called from the car.  More likely you called while sitting next to a PC (more on that later).

Whether you were in the room or not, chances are you experienced some challenges.

Challenges while in the room

When you’re in the room, you tend to forget there is someone “on the line”.  You remember when one of them finally tries to get a word in edgewise.

When someone does speak who is not in the room, you struggle to first identify who is speaking and then to fully comprehend what they are saying.  This becomes more of a challenge if the person speaks softly or with an accent with which you are not familiar.
You try to overcome these challenges by looking really hard at the conference phone on the table.  A quick glance reveals that everybody else in the room is doing the same.

Oddly, this does not seem to help.

Challenges while not in the room

If you are not in the room, and have dialed in using a phone, you face a similar challenge identifying the speaker, but the problem is often much worse because there are usually more people in the room.  You have no idea to whom comments are directed – it may be that the speaker is targeting someone directly with what he/she is saying, but you have no way of knowing this.

You have a lot to’ve got something brilliant to put up your hand! 

Nobody notices.

You wait patiently to jump in, but in the end, you can’t help it.  You go against everything your parents ever taught you about manners – you cut in.  It’s the only way, sorry, Mom.

The Problem

The fundamental problem in this scenario is not being able to see who is speaking.  Right now you don’t have much of a choice, though, do you?  People can’t always be in the same room at the same time.  There are geographic boundaries to consider and management has cut business travel spending to combat the economic downturn and to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.  Talk to me, you say, when that phone magically allows me to see everyone on the call as well as hear them.

OK, let’s talk.

The Solution

I’d like to introduce you to the Polycom CX5000, powered by Microsoft Lync Server 2010.

This wonderfully futuristic device takes the audio conference to the next level by adding immersive video to the experience.  The bottom circular platform is similar to your existing conference phone with an integrated dial pad and directional microphones and speakers.

The stem holds on its top 5 cameras arranged in a circle.  These cameras collect a real-time 360 degree panoramic view of the room.  It looks like this…


This view allows participants to see everybody in the room, and the dynamics between them.  Now we can see if someone is directing his/her comments to someone in particular!

The CX5000 also takes care of automatically displaying the current speaker.  So while you always see the full panoramic view, you also get to see the person currently speaking.

No more trying to figure it out based on what you hear, and with the visual you have a much better chance of understanding what is being said.  One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. (More)

D630I mentioned earlier that most of the time, those who are joining from outside the room are sitting at their PC, be it a desktop in an office or more likely a notebook computer while on the road at a customer site or in a hotel room.  This is where the game really changes, because again most of the time you are gathering on this call to review something tangible such as a budget spreadsheet or design layout.  You need to look at a document or screen during the session.

Add Microsoft Lync to the equation and we have finally reached utopia!

Turn a basic conference call into an Online Meeting

Microsoft Lync Online Meetings provide the rich collaborative experience you’ve been looking for, including a real-time view of the active speaker whether they are in the room or not, a full view of the people in the meetings rooms involved, and an integrated document and screen sharing environment . When you pull it all together it looks like this…

This is all accomplished with a single client on the desktop (Microsoft Lync) and a combination of standard webcams and Polycom CX5000 devices.  And you can join from anywhere in the world with a standard internet connection – no Virtual Private Network (VPN) required!


Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and the Polycom CX5000 combine to provide an immersive and empowered collaboration experience.  Gone are the days of struggling to understand what someone is saying on a call and emailing around documents, or worse, printing multiple copies for participants to review in a meeting.

Warning!  There is no turning back from this experience.  Once you’ve lived the good life, you will find yourself asking “where’s the video” and “show me your screen”.
Please feel free to add your own stories and comments, and if you’re interested in learning more, drop me a line!


  1. I've experienced all of these. :-) Good article, thanks man!

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