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Buying Tip: Figure out the "HOW" before you buy

Posted by Ryan Pinke on

So you want to enable all your conference rooms with Video Conferencing and you're ready to get going as quickly as possible. Great! But before you start buying, take a minute to think through "how" you're going to use the room. We've worked with several customer who are ready to buy today, they've got all the information they need about the room size, understand how the various products work together, and a project plan to get rooms integrated as quickly as possible - BUT, when asked, they don't always understand how the room will be used.

It's easy when the room is used for single purpose (distance learning/teaching, one-to-one consultations, etc.). But for most companies, their meeting and conference rooms could be used for anything.  One day it's training, another day team meetings, and the next, it's booked for a week to become a war room for a major project.  So why even focus on "how" the room will be used?

And our answer is "Because it matters".  Most companies are excited to get going, so they take an inventory of the physical attributes of the room (such as size, seating capacity, lighting and noise conditions, etc., etc.), they group them by "size" and then create a single configuration for each of those sized rooms.  That's important, but just as important is "how" the room is primarily used, and that's a little bit of a deeper dive into your meeting rooms.

The reason it's important is the simple fact that it will determine the specific products you buy - not the categories. Ultimately, how you use each room is as important in product selection as any other criteria, and it can be as simple as determine just a few standard uses which can be applied to the majority of your rooms.

So let's take a look at the "how" and break it down into some very high level scenarios to get you started.

Scenario One: The Huddle Space

  • Limited number of people in the meeting (3 to 4 max)
  • Someone could be sitting very close to the camera (within a couple feet) and everyone is within 8 feet or less.
  • Online content sharing is key
  • Most meeting are one hour or less, with ad hoc meetings being the norm

Although thought of as a room "type", video-enabled huddle spaces can also differ based upon how they are used. If your huddle rooms are focused on remote teams (of 2 or 3 people) working together, it requires a slightly different setup than if they are used primarily a shared video conferencing workspace. In general, huddle rooms require a single camera with a wide viewing angle and audio capabilities which can filter out background noise, without making the person speaking too loud for those in the video meeting. In almost every case, huddle rooms benefit from having a dedicated computer (as opposed to some meeting participant bringing their own laptop and plugging in), and we have standardized on the Intel Skull Canyon i7 NUC - great processing power with Intel's Iris graphics.

Ultimately, you want to enable your huddle room as a tool to "get work done" without getting in the way. And there are several "all-in-one" products, which integrate both the camera and audio into one package.  Regardless of buying individual products, or an integrated all-in-one, the huddle room should include enough technology for the majority of the work and be quick and easy to use. 

Scenario Two: The Boardroom

  • Medium (8-16 people) to large (16+ people), we've seen boardrooms of all sizes - but in general, they tend to lean towards the larger side
  • Closest person to the camera can be up to 10 feet away, and the furthest can be 20 to 30 feet
  • Online content sharing is less important than the meeting participants and who is speaking
  • Meeting length can be several hours (or days)
  • People can be spread out across the entire meeting room/space

I'm using Boardroom as a way to classify the meeting room space, but it's the you go for those "planning and strategy" meetings, or the customer presentation when you're trying to close the next multi-year contract. The structure of the room can be anything, along with how tables are setup (square, round, U-shaped) - but the purpose is fairly straight forward. There is one person speaking at any given time, presenting (with a physical handout or shown on a screen), when finished, there is another presenter.

When this is the primary use of a room, your camera needs to be able to provide a great "view" of the total room, but also the ability to zoom-in on a specific speaker, so having a camera with flawless PTZ (pan tilt zoom) capabilities is critical. Audio becomes a bit more difficult. Less important is background noise, but anyone in the room or online can be the "presenter", making the Speaker/Microphone setup important. And for most of these rooms, keeping the room free from clutter (including wires and cables) can't be overlooked. Looks are just as important as functionality - the room needs to make a positive impression. In almost all cases, we suggest using "installed" audio (usually within the ceiling) to provide a clean, less cluttered look.

Scenario Three: The War Room

  • Medium to large room
  • Content can be anything - online documents, flip charts, whiteboards, sticky notes
  • Activity is in the room is high, people moving round, small groups talking together in side conversations, presenting may be ad hoc
  • Meeting length may be less structured, and could be multiple days in length.

War rooms or project rooms present a video conferencing challenge - because their use is not necessarily for structure meetings where one person is the focus for an extended amount of time. They can be chaotic, with lots of people talking, and several discussions happening at the same time. But they are also key to how teams work together and share information. From a camera perspective, that means having the ability to view the whole room, but also tightly focus on "something or someone" - which may be a speaker, group of people, whiteboard, or flip chart. Audio is challenging, you may not want all conversations to be heard or those joining from outside to have the ability to disrupt what's going on by speaking.  So having an audio setup can automatically "fine tune" itself becomes much more important, as is having audio controls available to anyone within the physical room itself.

All this points to either a single or double camera and dynamic audio, along with other pieces to make the whole room work. This might include interactive whiteboards, document cameras, multi-user shared content applications, etc. Creating an in-room experience for your online participants may take a bit more planning to accomplish, but it can be done, and technology is out there to help.

Scenario Four: The Demonstration Room

  • Any size from small to large
  • Presentation is the primary focus, either online or in-room
  • Participation is usually limited (think Q&A after a presentation)
  • In-room attendance may be less important than online
  • Meeting length will generally be one hour or less

Demonstration room may be a bad name, but I couldn't really come up with a better one. Online webinars are perfect example (but it could also be on a tradeshow floor). These types of rooms are used for presenting - one speaker, sharing information, when done, there might be some Q&A. There is a bit of difference when the demo is a physical product versus an application, but the meeting purpose is the same - showing what you got.

When your primary use is demoing, it's more about the "product" and less about the presenter. Therefore, your products should provide the ability to focus on that. Meaning, audio may be more important than the camera - you want the speaker to be heard by anyone in the video conference. If there is a physical product, the camera may need to focus directly on it, or if there are multiple in-room visuals required, focus specifically on those - in this case, having a camera with remote control and pre-sets can save lots of time, along with creating a better meeting experience. Another function of the audio to consider is having the ability to quickly mute/unmute the audio. Some of those features would be controlled by the video conferencing platform itself, while others are product specific. The key is finding products which fit the specific need for the presentation, including interactivity for presenting.

Scenario Five: The Training Room

  • Larger rooms, up to auditorium
  • Single focus on presenter
  • Participation is limited

Distance learning has its own challenges, with the most likely being creating "flow" for anyone attending online. Most of us have lots of experience attending training classes in-person and know what to expect, the key difference is making the online experience as beneficial as the in-room experience. If your room is primarily used for training, then it's best to think of "where" the presenter will be and what materials they will be presenting. Think of the presenter as being on a "stage", the camera needs to be able to follow the presenter anywhere on that stage, and what they are saying needs to be crystal clear. For that reason, cameras may be mounted in the "back" of the room, as opposed to the front.

When it comes to the training room, visual presentation becomes much more important, with interactive displays and/or whiteboards, large and clear enough to be seen through the "eye" of the camera. The presenter is a key, but full room audio is less important, which may point to the use of a wireless microphone or microphone technology that allows for portions of the room to be muted.

Scenario Six: The Multipurpose Room

  • Any size room
  • Enclosed space (i.e. there is a door that can be closed)
  • Generally between 4 to 20 participants
  • Room can be used for any purpose, although most uses are "meetings"

This is the catch-all, normal conference or meeting room most of us use on a daily basis. From a video conferencing perspective, it's just a room. Although these are the majority of your meeting rooms, it still requires a bit of planning around what products to include. In general, the room dimensions may be a higher factor in selecting the camera or audio, but all rooms should include dedicated equipment (including an in-room computer). That way, you are ready for almost any type of use within the room, from chaotic project meetings to formalized training and presentation. Depending on your overall view of aestetics, you may prefer to install the audio (cleaning a cleaner look to the room, without all the associated cables running over or under your tables) and you may want either a wide angle static view of the room, or a more focused dynamic view.

Additional room products, such as specialty cameras, interactive displays, content sharing applications - or just the ability to quickly switch between online and in-room, are all decisions you'll need to make as you determine what products to buy.

We don't expect most companies to have single purpose rooms, it's just not viable, but we do believe that some rooms will be used for more for one purpose than another, and understanding product fit can go a long way in making the most from your video conferencing investment. The ultimate goal is to allow the technology to be part of the "background" and work seamlessly. The novelty will wear off over time, and when it does, you just want thing "to work" and help you and not get in the way.

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