VIDEOCONFERENCING, PRESENTATION AND CONFERENCE TECHNOLOGY Boxing On – Tools to pool

Recently father with military background was observed trying to round up children at noisy birthday party. Drawing himself up to his full height he announced in the sternest voice he could muster, “I have something to tell you, so you will all switch to receive”. The surprise factor meant his tactic worked; goggle-eyed 10-year-olds did indeed ‘listen up’ – for about 20 seconds.
Unfortunately for business managers reading this with gleam in the eye, adults rarely learn or grasp communication well when they are expected to ‘switch to receive’. Good thing then, that the days of business meetings and training sessions supported by long oval table, an overhead projector and whiteboard are gone.
In recent years, educational psychologists and corporate trainers have helped their clients to understand how people learn and how they don’t. As result, more businesses know that keeping kinesthetic learners seated hampers their ability to communicate and learn; dyslexics do not learn from reading whiteboards or taking notes; audio learners let their minds wander if they can’t hear properly, and visual learners have trouble stringing together concepts and instructions that can only be heard.
Because it isn’t economic, practical or desirable to segregate people according to their learning styles, multi-media, multi-strategy educative environment supported by the appropriate technology tools delivers what smart presenters, conference conveners and trainers want – multi-sensory support for presentations that hold the attention of people with variety of learning styles, and so achieve business goals.

New breed of tools
Presentation technologies are evolving with exciting results. Examples include whiteboards that come with their own software and plug into laptop computers so that what is entered on the whiteboard is entered on the computer application at the same time. The entire presentation can later be made available, stroke for stroke and complete with audio overlay, as media show on website or sent as an email.
In the projector world, portable units have become so light you could lose them – the lightest projector in the Epson EMP series is just 1.7 kilograms – or so fully featured and grunty you can light up church auditorium or warehouse (and audio learners won’t be muttering they can’t hear either).
However, the best thing about new projectors is that many are now wireless and computer independent. Businesses with local wireless area network will find the right projector will connect to it, and presentation, graphics or audio file can be downloaded to memory card which now plugs directly into the projector. Because the projector’s remote control replaces the functions of PC keyboard, the computer then isn’t needed at all.
Naturally, such progress hasn’t been made for altruistic reasons. Hardware and software developers, resellers and importers report unprecedented interest and growth in new technologies and because this is an industry well used to dynamic change the market opportunity in presentation tools won’t be missed.
“This is very competitive market area and it’s growing,” says Anjna Patel, marketing manager for Epson New Zealand. “It’s where the future is heading and Epson has lot of research and development investment in projection equipment. We will be increasing our offering and extending our range.”

Software sales soar
Software developers like Microsoft and Ectus have also been energetically promoting range of products designed to support online learning, meeting and collaboration environments. In Microsoft’s case, online subscriptions to services like LiveMeeting let individuals meet, train or converse in secured online space on the public internet with all the bells and whistles they desire. For those that want to use their own business network, Microsoft has products like Live Communication Server and the soon to be released and aptly titled Conference XP.
Dave Thompson, services director for Microsoft New Zealand, says his company heavily researched the components of distance learning and the reaction of customers to collaborative software tools, and concluded innovative virtual presentation and meeting tools were hot.
“While technology is never perfect substitute for face-to-face interaction, after managers have met customer or colleague face-to-face, it can be used to continue to meet and collaborate. Virtual online meetings then become comfortable and everyone saves time and money in traffic hold-ups, travelling and airfare costs,” says Thompson.
He says LiveMeeting is accompanied by visible dashboard which shows each participant the video, audio and interactive aids available to them.
“You can connect an interactive whiteboard to the session; you can use instant messaging; you can talk and be heard via telephone or IP phone call, and you can run Powerpoint presentation with an audio overlay that everyone attending can see, hear and respond to,” says Thompson.

Real world
Online learning and collaborative software developer Ectus is winning the hearts and wallets of customers that need finely tuned, reliable and highly functional video-conferences.
Mark Topping, chief executive for Ectus, says the worldwide market for video-conferencing and video streaming tools has been estimated at US$2 billion per year, with approximately US$200 million of that amount due to the sales of video-streaming products and services.
“This latter figure is expected to grow at 10 percent per year and our aim is to capture up to five percent of the revenue in this category,” he says.
The synchronous or ‘real time’ e-learning market – which describes software tools used to help people talk and present to each other in real time through videoconferences or online conferences – is where Ectus is at, and it is booming. Internationally, that market is forecast to grow to reach US$750 million per year by 2006. Corporate e-learning in the United States alone generated US$1.4 billion in revenue in 2000 – figure expected to hit $US4 billion by the end of 2005.
However, the exponential rise in synchronous presentation tools is not hurting sales of tools designed to support asynchronous – or pre-recorded, non-live, non-interactive presentation and communication environments – either. Why? Because some people learn and communicate better outside of synchronous learning environment, particularly if concepts or information require lot of processing, reflection or analysis.
“At the end of videoconference, the whole conference can be made available online to be viewed later. You can ask question at later point and have it answered because software like Ectus’ shows the administrator what the individual was looking at and listening to when the question was asked,” says Chris Stewart, managing director for videoconferencing specialists Asnet.

People power
Obviously it’s good time for the presentation tool industry, but where is the return on investment for businesses? Primarily, it occurs through increased collaboration between team members, more efficient training results, and the ability to present to wider and more geographically dispersed audience. But there are also bottom-line benefits as the cost of physically moving people between locations for meetings, or having to retrain them, is heavily reduced.
Microsoft itself is an interesting, if expected, example of an organisation that uses presentation and collaboration tools to build communities, pool ideas and save money. Employees not only use LiveMeeting, but are also heavy instant messaging users and comfortable with using telephone and videoconferencing to collaborate on projects, train staff, and present new directions, strategies and ideas through large headquarter-led conferences.
“Most of my LiveMeeting meetings have about 20 people on them and they are really effective,” says Thompson.
Of importance is the reality that, because IT is its core business, Microsoft staff ha

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