Virtual meetings have acquired a good reputation. They were originally intended to achieve a more efficient meeting methodology and environment. Their stated purpose was to streamline and enhance meeting procedures, as well as being available to staff members who may have been unable to attend otherwise. Historically, they're one step up from the video conference, a reasonably effective meeting mode which if cumbersome in some ways did deliver a workable meeting environment. The virtual conference, however, is a rather different thing.

The pros and cons of virtual meetings are complex, and so is the medium. The virtual conference may be considered a blessing by some and a curse for others.


* Format issues: Virtual meetings come in formats from the "cute" to the annoying, according to those who don't like them. Avatars with heads on them may be novel for a few minutes, but it creates a bizarre context for some people. Adjustment takes a while, and some people don't adjust well, or quickly, to the formats.

* Participation values: Some people aren't good at presentation in person, let alone in the third person on a screen. Their performance levels get even lower. Even some people who are normally good presenters may underperform, working with the limitations of virtual meeting technology.

* Personal contact values: Many managers don't like the "remote" aspect of virtual meetings, not being able to judge from a bland graphic the content of a statement.

* The learning curve: Getting the best out of a virtual meeting takes time and familiarity. That's likely to grate on the nerves of those who aren't quick studies, and embarrass them. If a senior manager feels like a fool, the virtual conference method isn't likely to get very far.

* Value for money: This is a true roadblock for many companies. The virtual meeting may be seen as a mildly upgraded cartoon show, not a valuable business tool. Even if the virtual conference does allow considerable scope for handling information, the negative effect is based on a strong dislike of the medium.


The pro arguments are based on operational possibilities, and the scope offered by the virtual meeting medium:

* Ability to communicate: The virtual meeting allows for much stronger communication and participation. It is possible to do an entire professional presentation to a global audience. This is an extremely valuable business tool, used effectively.

* Improving access for stakeholders: The process of getting everyone who should be at a meeting in the same place is often horrifically complex, and usually very expensive. A few clicks can achieve the same effect.

* Use of medium for interaction with all members participating: That's one thing even a physical meeting usually can't achieve. A meeting with more than 20 people usually won't have the time to literally include all participants. It's quite easy for a virtual meeting to run multiple functions like this, in the course of a relatively short period of time.

* Choice of participants and access: Virtual methods can get an expert sitting in on your meeting far more easily than any other possible option. People who otherwise couldn't be available have easy access to the meeting, anytime, anywhere.

Virtual meetings should be likened to any other technological source. Provided you know how to use them effectively, they're useful.





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