I love Seth Godin.
If you are not familiar with Seth and/or not following his blog, you should. Now. Before you continue reading. I mean it.
I hardly get to use Seth’s wise words in my blog, as he mainly writes about business and marketing. However, from time to time, I’m lucky to find something relevant to visual communications from the guy, which usually opens up the door for more discussion.
A few weeks ago Seth published a post on the “three kinds of meetings” present in corporate culture, where he wrote:
“There are only three kinds of classic meetings:
- Information. This is a meeting where attendees are informed about what is happening (with or without their blessing). While there may be a facade of conversation, it’s primarily designed to inform.
- Discussion. This is a meeting where the leader actually wants feedback or direction or connections. You can use this meeting to come up with an action plan, or develop a new idea, for example.
- Permission. This is a meeting where the other side is supposed to say yes but has the power to say no.
PLEASE don’t confuse them. Confused meeting types are the number one source of meeting ennui…”
I have to say that when I read this, in close proximity to writing my thoughts on whether Telepresence will replace face-to-face meetings, I realized Seth is making a very relevant point here, not just for meeting conduct, but for the use of visual communications in meetings as well.
People arguing that Telepresence, or any means of visual communications for that matter, will never replace “classic”, physical meetings, state that “even high quality audio and video cannot replicate the rich nature of face-to-face communication. Period.”. Well, Seth and I ask you all not to confuse the meeting types, and closely examine if visual communication can replace, or even surpass, some.
Visual Communication instead of “just” in-person meetings
Information meetings, where attendees are informed about what is happening, and maybe ask a question or two, held in person, are – IMHO – a complete waste of time. Whether it’s a corporate briefing, a roadmap presentation, a quarterly review – this kind of meetings can, and should, be held via visual communications, either live by video conference or by streaming.
Recording information meetings and broadcasting them, both live and using streaming, enables anyone to view and receive the valuable information, even if they are not present because of geographical or time boundaries. These meetings can be reviewed later and serve as guidelines. All of these benefits are not available when meetings are “only” held in-person.
Permission meetings, where the other side has to approve what is presented before it, are a kind of a twist on information meetings. This time, during the meeting or at the end of it, the other side has to give feedback.
Nevertheless, permission meetings can, and should, be done via video conference. This will allow for a wider audience to attend (for instance, General Managers from different areas around the world), and will enable others (employees, attendees) to review the discussion and decisions much later, when memory will fail. Again, these are valuable benefits that are not available when meetings are held in-person.
Doing Things The “Right” Way
The case of discussion meetings is more complicated. If you ask me, I think that even for discussion meetings, such as design reviews or action plan discussions, video conferencing can serve as a superior experience, especially when working in a global enterprise or on a global project – I’ve done both successfully.
I agree that, sometimes, a “personal touch” is required for such discussions. Therefore, I admit that discussion meetings cannot always be replaced by visual communications. But I still believe that in many cases we choose to be physically “there”, even when “there” is thousands of miles apart, just because that’s what we’re used to. And it’s about time we get used to do things the “right” way.
Meeting via visual communications saves time, energy, money, hassle. Instead of closing the lights for one hour on “Earth Hour” day or complain how meetings are a waste of time, hold your meeting virtually. It’s the kind of meetings that work.
PS: In case someone agrees with me regarding the use of conferencing, but wonders whether video is required (as audio-only conferencing can be used as well), I kindly refer him to the wonderful talented Susan Boyle. If you would settle for just hearing Susan, go ahead and use audio-only. If you’re like the rest of us, loving the video, I rest my case.