Online Meetings

July 15, 2009

Why travel for meetings when simple technologies make it possible to have all of your meetings in your office (or, heck, in your living room)?


For those of you who love slogging through traffic to make meetings or, worse, using our bus, er, I mean air transport system to sit face to face with business colleagues, this column is not for you.

However, if you (like me) are not fond of the sometimes daunting inefficiencies of in-person meetings, you should consider making the transition to online meetings. They are a wonderful and surprisingly effective alternative to the traditional face-to-face gathering.

Online meetings typically involve a combination of phone conferencing (which allows multiple people from multiple locations to share a line) and a Web meeting. The Web meeting allows a presenter to share a presentation on his laptop with all the meeting attendees.

So, if you have tight schedule (as most of you do), but still want to participate in a local hospital planning session, you simply call into the conference number, click on an e-mail invitation to the Web meeting, and voila! It is as good as being there.

Well … almost as good. As any psychologist will tell you, there is a tremendous amount of information communicated non-verbally within a meeting. Online meetings can’t communicate the rich body language that occurs anytime people interact.

However, online meetings definitely sharpen your acuity to audio cues - the unspoken messages inherent in a speaker’s intonation and emphasis. As someone that has done hundreds of online meetings in support of my consulting business, I can personally testify that they are incredibly effective, while being an amazing time saver.

Who, what, when, how?

How do online meetings work? First, someone has to “host” a meeting. This means that an individual or company has licensed Web-meeting software (the two most common applications are LiveMeeting by Microsoft and WebEx by Citrix). Using the software, the presenter sets up a meeting and sends an e-mail invitation out to participants. The attendees click on the invitation and are “taken” to the meeting, which is hosted on the Internet.

In most cases you will also be given a separate conference number, which you call using your standard cell phone or landline. Some Web meeting services will allow you to use your computer for audio communication, but in my experience that is still fairly infrequent.

Web meetings do require that you have broadband access to the Internet. You may also have to download a small Web meeting applet. Assuming that you have a reasonably up-to-date computer (i.e. within the last five years), you should be able to log on without a problem.

Why they rock

Web meetings are great for your standard Power Point presentations and are particularly good for EMR or other software presentations; as well as attending educational webinars from the comfort of your home or office (the latter is an excellent way to earn CME credits).

Moreover, they allow you to virtually convene a large group - .i.e. your practice administrator, a partner that is traveling, a nurse working from home - with a simple e-mail invitation. Compare this with the logistics of an in-person meeting and you can quickly grasp the time saving advantage of virtual meetings.

Additionally, for meetings that require multiple presentations, the Web-meeting software allows presenters to pass the control of the meeting to another attendee who can then present material from their PC.

Finally: Online meetings are by far the best way to attend required meetings that may have only partial relevance to you, for the simple reason that no one can see you. That gives you the freedom to multitask (e-mail and minor family negotiations are my two favorites) without appearing inattentive.

Will online meetings ever completely replace the time-honored face to face?

No. Humans love the quasi-physical contact of an in-person meeting. But virtual meetings, by the sheer force of their convenience, are definitely here to stay.

Bruce Kleaveland is president of Kleaveland Consulting, a management consulting firm focused on healthcare IT. He can be reached via mailto:physicianspractice@cmpmedica.com.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Physicians Practice.