This past week I presented to the global IT organization of Kraft Foods Inc. and witnessed my first global online meeting. The company operates in more than 160 countries and participating in this meeting were IT people from India, across Asia, Europe, across the U.S. While I was at corporate headquarters, via live meeting, three digital video recorders and a small production staff enabled me and the other speakers to present to more than 600 people globally.
The CIO says that his company needs to live “ON” the Internet and this was clearly an example. Not only was it carbon positive – think of all those flights, but also it broadened participation to across the IT organization. Everyone could participate either in a central location like a conference room or as an individual via their own PC. This was a complex meeting over three days with morning keynotes and six breakout rooms for individual presentations.
While the meeting took extensive planning, it was surprising how much fun the people running the meeting were having and how relatively inexpensive it was to run an interactive meeting. The team used readily available software, standard consumer digital video cameras, a normal microphones, etc. The system did not crash, although there was some latency when showing videos. This is clearly something that has come of age.
Based on working with the team and observing them in action here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) Planning and Preparation is required to produce a meeting like this. The planning on the technical side is pretty straightforward, software, communications bandwidth, how to handle video etc. The planning on the content side is important, as the presentations need to be delivered ahead of time to both upload to the server and distribute to people who will be audio only.
2) Redundancy is important in execution as they had multiple cameras available, should one break, two people monitoring the live meeting site—one for questions, the other for the chat rooms and multiple microphones.
3) Pragmatism reflected in the way you combine technologies to make things work. The people working on the meeting did not seek perfection, rather what would work and provide an extended experience. Sure it was not Telepresence, but it went a long way to engage the entire global organization. One example is the sound, while the main session had a sound board and the normal microphones, the breakouts were done with speakers talking over Bluetooth telephone headsets as they broadcast the audio over the conference call system and the video over the web. You do not need lots of expensive equipment, nor complex integration to make this happen.
4) A positive attitude is a requirement in execution because I observed a dozen little things that went wrong, nothing serious and all were overcome based on an attitude that said “ok how do we make it work.” This included a constant focus on meeting the needs of the people viewing the meeting remotely and making sure they felt part of the meeting. Repeat questions, ask for questions, engage in the chat room.
5) Speaker awareness that this was a different type of meeting. The web cam required your slides to simpler, brighter, with less text. The fact that people had electronic copies of the slides allows you to show some detail, but only some. The fact that you were broadcasting to a global audience required that you recognize multiple languages and the fact that participants were translating what you say. Finally, you had to show an openness to interaction allowing participants to ask questions both in the room and online.
While nothing will replace all of the social value of meeting face to face, the overall success of this meeting indicates that it is possible for you to engage a global team with sufficient fidelity and sophistication to have a shared experience and communicate information. Global live meetings not only possible, but also a readily available option. Early participant feedback was good, and I can see how this is an example of living “ON” the Internet.