Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is it important to “look someone in the eye”?

Dennis Nishi tells this story of Paul Smith in the Wall Street Journal,  Paul, a manager at Procter and Gamble had 20 minutes to make a presentation and sell CEO, A. G. Lafley, on new marketing techniques.

“On the day of the meeting, CEO A.G. Lafley entered the room, greeted everybody and turned his back to the screen. He then stared intently at Mr. Smith throughout the entire presentation, not once turning to look at a slide. 
“"I felt like maybe I hadn't done a very good job because he wasn't looking at my slides like everyone else," says Mr. Smith, who also noticed that the other managers didn't seem very engaged. ‘It didn't occur to me until later that he did that because he was more interested in what I had to say than in what my slides looked like.’ "

Dennis Nishi is making a very good point.  He is demonstrating in his article that “story-telling” is an effective communication tool and Paul was successful because he looked Mr. Lafley in the eye the entire time and told his story.  Many companies are embracing this technique of communication.

However, face to face meetings are not always possible.  Busy executives, managers and staff are often over committed and time pressured.  Traveling is expensive and time consuming.  New communication technology changes the playing field by making virtual face to face meetings a reality. 

Does that mean that the techniques and, more importantly, the social interaction aspects of a meeting the same?  Of course not!

Video is a different realm and a game changer.  Just like any tool, like PowerPoint, techniques need to be learned and practiced to make them effective.  Let’s talk about the social interaction aspects that improve response.  If you are making a presentation or want to be an authority opinion of a topic, then other people in the meeting need to see you.  But, beyond that, they need to see a social version of you that they expect to see and does not violate their sense of visual acuity.  What does that mean? 

  • ·         First, If you had been in broadcast TV, you would know that people expect to see a “headshot”.  That is a view of you with your shoulders and head centered appropriately in the shot.  Note that the eye level is about center in the screen and that there is “headroom at the top.  People have a hard time taking you seriously if they can only see the top of your forehead.  Note, it is more difficult to maintain this with a mobile device or tablet, because the camera points where it wants to.  But, that means you have to work harder at it.

  • ·         Second, it is important to look at the camera!  Many of us forget that in a meeting, if you are talking, you are not talking to your computer monitor.  You are talking to real live people who happen to be some distance away.  They want to see you look at them.  Keep your eyes focused on the camera.  That is the true “looking into their eyes”.  Also, an audience accustomed to television viewing does not like to see head bobbing and weaving.  They will pay much more attention to your content if they are not trying to follow your motion.  If you cannot help but move somewhat, try the “follow me” feature on the webcam to keep you framed in the center of the shot.

  • ·         Third, just like positioning yourself, it is important to pay attention to background and lighting.  If you have lived more than 3 years here on earth, you probably have noticed that the sun is very bright.  Regrettably, as good as new cameras are, they do not have the contrast ratio of the human eye.  So, if your camera is shooting you in front of a window, it has no choice but to iris down and make you look excessively dark.  

       Likewise, excessive lighting on your face can create “hot spots” that the contrast ratio of the camera cannot handle.  Flat front lighting is best.  But, some background lighting is necessary for the “3 dimensional effect” and to avoid distracting shadows on your background.

  • ·         Fourth, background is also an important to a “business look”.  If you have a messy office with piles of papers and miscellaneous debris (unfortunately, like I do), it is preferable to keep it out of the shot.  You should be the focus of attention, not the business in the background.

  • ·         Finally, Modern videoconference systems allow desktop sharing.  If you are giving a presentation, proper PowerPoint etiquette is in order.  Systems now allow a shared presentation to be opened up in a separate screen or moved to a separate monitor.  Please make sure your participants are versed in how to make this change and let them decide if they want to look at you or your presentation.  A quick glance at your monitor can let you know which one is most important to them.   

Technology does not replace good sense in conducting a meeting or a presentation.  Adhering to good story-telling and effective use of information sharing tools, like PowerPoint go a long way to cover-up the technology.  But, don’t let the technology get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish.  As we all know, television is a good medium to impart information.  Television viewers expect a certain decorum in social interaction.  This directly translates to videoconference meetings and it can be disturbing to viewers to see something “out of the norm”.  It is significantly better if you are the “star” of the show, rather than a distraction.

Dave Desmarais formerly was in charge of a multimillion dollar Network Operations Center for customer support.  It was 24 X 7, virtual operation.  Having highly skilled technical representatives working from home offices was essential to the quality of support that was required for 24 X 7.

Friday, October 11, 2013

HP and Working Remotely

HP and Working Remotely
Meg Whitman announced that she is ending “Working at Home for HP Employees” “!”.  

While I can applaud her efforts to re-energize HP and turn the ship around, this effort really sends the wrong message to businesses for a company committed to new technologies.  I also understand that HP sold off its struggling Videoconferencing business to Polycom before Ms. Whitman arrived on the scene.  But, let’s examine the move.

I will have to admit, I have never visited HP’s offices in Palo Alto.  However, I have spent many hours toiling in offices in Silicon Valley.  There is a not a lot of creativity there.  Low buildings with lovely landscaping and imposing lobbies that lead to floors with rows and rows of drab grey cubicles where employees do their level best to hide behind their computer monitor on email to avoid any suspicion that they are actually there.  Has Meg Whitman ever read Dilbert?

Silicon Valley office environments do not lead to creative or constructive discussion.  There are multiple studies of office productivity and how to design an office that promotes intelligent intercourse.  Large Silicon Valley companies, evidently never read them. 

I once had a vice-president (from a distant office) come out and tell me that I am in the same building with a co-worker and that I needed to go see him regularly and “talk” with him.  Interestingly, I was never sure he actually worked there.  One, he was never at his desk in his cubicle.  I would walk over there 3 or 4 times a day, across a courtyard and 2 floors away, only to see an empty chair.  Two, he would never answer the phone or return a voice mail.  The phone had consistent red led’s blinking indicating unanswered voicemail.  Three, he did not answer my emails, or meeting requests.  Four, he never made any attempt to visit my cubicle.  So, how do you find the guy?  The truth is, with the current infrastructure, you don’t.

So, let’s talk about the “water-cooler”.  I will also admit that I have an aversion to email, whereas most office workers these days are addicted to it.  I liked the “water-cooler” (or, in my case the coffee service), because there was always someone there I really needed to talk to.  They could help with my problem, or I could help with theirs.  But, it was located in a far corner of the large cubicle room and hidden by a wall.  You never knew who you would run into there until you got there.  In modern office design, there needs to be a balance of “caves and commons” where individuals can congregate formally and informally to work out important business matters and then retreat to undisturbed areas where they can act upon them. 
So, that brings us to the modern world of technology.  How do we get to the ideal world of business interaction within the context of dealing with large business concerns over large distances?

  • ·         First, HD Videoconferencing has now made it possible to create virtual meeting rooms that are the next best thing to being in the same physical room.   Equipment is cheap and accessible.  Nowadays, all that it requires is a laptop with an internet connection, webcam, mic and speakers, something most employees already have available to them.  Is it simple to connect to a meeting? – absolutely!  Almost all employees already have the skill to click and connect and that is all that it takes.  The days of Maxwell Smart’s “Dome of Silence” technology are long gone.  Meetings are natural experiences, just like being there with low-latency, full-duplex HD Videoconferencing that actually make it easier for people to participate.  They may even be better, because everyone has the ability to share and collaborate.  I can’t tell you how many live meetings I have been in where there have been delays and miscues while presenters try to get their PowerPoint presentation up on the projector and it takes a call down to IT to send someone up to figure out how to use the Crestron program.  Geico made a famous commercial out of that, showing a CEO trying to switch a presentation and after fiddling and fiddling, ending up with words only over flashing disco lights and loud music.  It was funny, because we all have had that experience. 

People may complain about high latency systems, because they are used to telephone conferences and free system delays and dropped calls.  System delay means that people start talking over one another and then end up with an embarrassing silence while they figure out who can talk.  But, choosing the right simple system can eliminate all of that.  Today’s systems allow for almost instant response, just like talking in the same room and they are resilient to network fluctuations.  Yes, 2 or 3 or more people can all end up talking at once.  But, the meeting facilitator can control that, either verbally or with a mute button.  Hey, that is something you cannot do in a face to face meeting.

  • ·         Second, there is the concept of “presence”.  I would not suggest that you put a GPS locator on all your employees, but when you are at your desk and open for discussion, modern systems allow your presence information to be visible on the system.  A picture here is probably worth a thousand words. 

Figure 1 Videoconference “Presence”

Here you can see that I am available, but I can  also see Alex, Jared, Lloyd and Shanna.  If I have something important to discuss with one of them or all of them.  I can have an impromptu meeting.  I do not have to go 2 floors up and across a courtyard (or across the country) to see if they are there.  If Joy needs some time to do something, or is away from her desk, then I know I cannot contact her until she is back.  Many telephone systems have “presence capability.  But, look closely, you can see that I am not limited to the telephone handset sitting on my desk.  If I am getting coffee or at the water cooler, I have a DaveD-mobile presence!  I can be video conferenced on my smartphone or tablet device with the same HD capability and audio quality I have on my computer.

  • ·         Third, just like a larger meeting, I can share anything on my desktop.  I can collaborate with others, ask them for a value judgment, or show a problem.  Just think what a benefit this would be to support groups.  If I were an IT helpdesk, I would want to have this simple access to the desktop.  Let’s say IT support is in the list of contacts.  I contact them with a problem and they answer, see my computer, take over the desktop and fix it. 
  • ·         Fourth, there is a cost factor.  Remarkably, Videoconferencing costs have come down exponentially.  The costs can be less than voice phone calls over the public telephone lines and significantly less per minute than cell phone rates.  When you look at the value of the functionality, employee satisfaction and higher productivity levels, it makes a great deal of sense. 

Certainly, there are times and some office experiences that make sense to be on site.  And, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that some people just do not like being on Videoconference.  They have the opportunity to deny their “presence”.  However, I would encourage them to try it and experience the benefits, especially when they need something important. 

So Meg, take a longer look at what your executive decision means.  Employees will have more frustration with longer commute times, meetings may actually be less productive, communication is less likely and more important work gets delayed at HP.  Just do a survey of now much voicemail and unnecessary email goes on at HP.

Dave Desmarais formerly was in charge of a multimillion dollar Network Operations Center for customer support.  It was 24 X 7, virtual operation.  Having highly skilled technical representatives working from home offices was essential to the quality of support that was required for 24 X 7.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What’s the Buzz on 4K?


Ultra HD  or 4K is the latest buzz word in improving TV technical quality in Broadcasting.  But, the real value lies in business applications.

I consider myself a good student of what consumers want in electronics. 

A.      A cell phone that works, including making phone calls

B.      A decent TV show to watch

C.      Things that don’t break 10 minutes after the warranty expires

D.      A convenient tablet to avoid any social contact in airports

So, how do I think consumers will value Ultra HD or 4K TV?  In a word, “….y..a..w..n”.

But, but, 4K TV promises 4 times the current HD resolution (sort of).  It offers an “immersive” experience.  Viewers can get right up to the screen and see detail that they have never seen before.   Yes, well 3D offered consumers a different experience than regular TV and was met with a collective negligence that has all but buried it in Broadcast.  Would 4K make any difference?  I don’t think so. 

One has to remember that TV is a “passive” medium, re Marshall McCluen.  Content is the key.  Technology, like Glory is fleeting.  Consumers are in impressed for a few minutes in the local Best Buy at seeing great resolution.  But, how long will that fascination last when they are watching pretty video fish swimming in an electronic aquarium - not very long.  TV viewers get immersed in content and soon forget the technology.  These days, I believe the vast majority of TV viewers multitask while the TV is on.  There is way too much non-passive stimulus around us to sit still.  So, who will participate in an “immersive” experience, 1 foot away from a giant 4K TV?

That is not to say that 4K is not valuable.  As John Watkinson famously pointed out, program capture should always be on the highest quality imaging device you can reasonably acquire.   After all, you cannot fix image quality problems in post.  So, 4K cameras for image capture  should be a priority goal.  It will make an impact on quality even when down converted to SD NTSC and sent over your local cable system.  4K has a place in production. 

However, the real value needs to be determined by early adopters that can visualize the value in business applications.  Let’s talk about some of the opportunities out there. 

Business Meetings.  By definition, business meetings are “immersive”.  The purpose is to share ideas and formulate strategies to enhance business performance.  4K video in a videoconferencing environment can offer immediacy with no travel, multiple locations and time zones, real-time sharing and collaboration with everyone on the same page.  Cheaper, better , faster with a “just like being there” feel.  For busy executives, keeping tabs on everything that is going on and according to strategic goals, this is huge.  No matter where they are, they are in touch – and not just with endless email threads.

Product Launch and Promotion.  Wowing prospective clients with good marketing and that initial, “I’ve never seen this before” technology creates a buzz about a product or service.  4K affords new levels of creativity and outlets to “get the word out”.  It can be targeted, more personal and have more impact.  True, you could do this before with 35mm film or a RED camera.  But, those productions can now be much less costly with new, inexpensive 4K devices and your marketing folks are free to explore many other outlet venues besides TV commercials.  Again, “immersive” is the key term.  Challenge the marketing folks to come up with solutions to “immerse” the target audience. 

Digital Signage.  There is a lot of digital signage out there.   I think everyone knows how dismal it normally performs.  The few successes are in theatre billboards and fast food menus, which means it is a cheaper alternative to static printed material.  Large screen, “immersive” 4K affords the opportunity for Digital Signage to come of age and become a real marketing tool.  Someone with a vision needs to grab hold and take to where it needs to be.

Training and Education.  Truly, this is an area where 4K should really shine.  Interactive, collaborative 4K experience can revolutionize training and education, or educating consumers.  Of course, this will require some creativity.  Think “immersive medium”.   There is the opportunity here for real connection with those who may not readily acclimate to the traditional lecture/classroom /regurgitate education that is typically available.  Think of the advantages, record ability and endless playback repeat, collaboration and immediate tutoring availability and finally review next week, next year or five years from now. 

Medical , Scientific  Sports.  Just to name a couple of applications where high resolution imaging is essential to diagnosis and study of phenomenon,  4K images with the ability to be transmitted globally in high frame rates will change the nature of how we deal with the world. 

Yes, 4K has multiple uses and will be of high value.  Probably not as much value though, for traditional Broadcast TV.
Dave Desmarais
President and Founder
Perinata Inc.

Contact Us:Phone:  864-885-1918email:

Follow Dave on Twitter:

Like Us on Facebook!