Small Business

Getting Serious About Teleconferencing


Our new series continues with a look at everything from teleconferencing to teaching entrepreneurship to risk-takers. Check back each week for surveys, stats, product comparisons, book reviews, and more

When You Have to Get Serious about Teleconferencing

Your company's sales staff has to teleconference once a week with the new sales office you've set up in London. Can one of those $100 Web cams you attach to your laptops help you pull it off? Chances are people in both offices will get frustrated pretty quickly.

"If two individuals want to speak with each other and they're not on the same network, the solution may be okay," says David Butler, a project manager with Univisions Crimson Group, a company with headquarters in New York State and Massachusetts that resells teleconferencing equipment."But if five people want to talk to four people in two different locations, there could be problems."

The key challenge: how to pick up sounds and sights from several people sitting around a conference table in a 600-sq.ft. conference room. You could take the Web cam attached to one of the computers and pass it around to different people as they speak, but that usually gets to be annoying, says Butler.

Besides, the quality of pictures and sound transmission may be poor. Better to have a separate microphone for each attendee, which controls two or more cameras that can tilt and zoom according to commands from the microphones. Systems should also be designed to avoid problems such as the humming of heating and air conditioning systems, and the glare of brightly laminated conference tables, he advises.

Designing for all such contingencies isn't inexpensive. According to Butler, a semi-portable system mounted on a cart typically ranges from $10,000 to $20,000 per site. Permanent installations go from $30,000 to $70,000 per location. It's best to consult with a design engineer at your supplier to anticipate key issues.

Had Thoughts About Teaching Entrepreneurship?

If so, then be aware that at a growing number of colleges and universities, the lecture approach is losing favor, and a new "active teaching" technique is coming into vogue for entrepreneurship courses. This technique includes computer simulations, role playing, group projects, and even negotiations between student and instructor over types of exams and grading, reports Gordon Haym, a professor at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt.

A key element of many classes, he says, is the "one-minute paper" following each class where students answer a question or assess a problem posed by the instructor (see Haym's paper).

Where Are the Risk-takers?

Looming demographic problems probably mean fewer small-business launches overseas. As people age, they are less likely to take on the risks associated with launching a business. This reality will likely compound the demographic problems facing many European countries and Japan, according to a study by Maria Minniti, a professor at Babson College.

Older workers are less inclined to take risks with retirement looming, she says. The study "has important policy implications because it suggests that, unless things change, countries with aging populations—such as most European countries—may expect a decline in entrepreneurial activity and possibly growth," says Minniti. She adds that the U.S. may be at lower risk because of its large immigrant population. "Immigrants tend to be younger and have more children to help build new businesses."

What's On Your Bookshelf?

A couple of recent books seek to help entrepreneurs psyche themselves up for success: Succeed on Your Own Terms by Herb Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney contains great advice. Be resilient. Perform under pressure. Reinvent yourself. But how? It's not completely clear.

Similarly, Get Out of Your Own Way by Robert Cooper advises entrepreneurs to "chase your own dream, not someone else's," and to "work smart." His key point is that we all have the capacity to do more and perform more ably than we realize. How do we unlock all this hidden potential? Presumably by setting high goals for ourselves. Both books can be helpful in encouraging entrepreneurs to look inward and think more about their personal aspirations and goals, something many avoid.

Other parts of the Action Items series:

Action Items, Part I

Action Items, Part II

David E. Gumpert covers business/health issues and also writes the biweekly What Entrepreneurs Need to Know column.

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