Cisco’s Telepresence: A huge hit, but there’s a big miss

My favorite guest blogger is back, and I don’t say that just because she’s our Executive VP and my daughter-in-law, but because she is brilliant in developing programs for our clients. If you’re not doing so already, follow her on Twitter @kellydecker. – Bert Decker

I was first wowed by Cisco’s Telepresence – a fantastic virtual meeting solution – when I spent some time in NY coaching a group of Cisco’s leaders in 2007. But this week I got to experience it for myself, thanks to Ian Griffin, who set up a demo for local NSAers.

Cisco touts this experience as the next best thing to an in-person meeting. Clearly, Chambers and team understand that regardless of the technology that shrinks the globe around us, it’s the face-to-face, in-person interactions that business continues to yearn for. And, it delivers. The experience is “you” in high-def, which, as our host Rick quipped, has it’s downfalls especially for any unwanted complexion issues. There’s nothing grainy or choppy about it. And though I hate to admit it (especially in front of my husband), once you go high-def, you just don’t go back (so, yes, I really do believe in paying extra for HD at home – there, I said it).

Check out some pictures on Ian Griffin’s blog.

To sum up the pros:

  • The video and audio is seamless – it feels like you’re in the same room.
  • It absolutely saves businesses travel time and money, and the ROI can be quick, depending on your need for travel. For companies who have put a halt on all travel even for salespeople – if you do not provide a way for them to connect in-person, you’ve just made it that much more difficult to sell in already tough times. There is nothing more effective to communicate to influence than in-person meetings – this provides a great way to do it.
  • It’s accessible to the public – you don’t need your own private Telepresence equipment to do this. Public rooms are available from $299 per hour per location. You do the math.

Now for the cons:

  • Cisco has done a great job with the technology (as we expect as they are one of the most innovative companies around – even into holography.) But they haven’t focused on training the user to maximize the experience (hmmm…sounds just a little like PPT!):
    • I was in a larger Telepresence suite, communicating with another smaller room. I observed for a while to figure out what was happening with eye communication – because it sure didn’t look like people were looking at the person who was talking (even though they were). Knowing how critical eye communication and behavioral skills are to the overall experience, I asked about how they prepare clients behaviorally to use the technology effectively. Imagine my disappointment when the answer was, “there’s a brief description in the documentation” and “a printed set of Etiquette Guides in each room.” Yikes!
    • Eye Communication is the #1 behavioral skill – if you don’t have it, you lose that connection and involvement with your listener. These might sound like subtle things, but communications is largely unconscious – how will that new client react to you when you appear to be talking to someone else in the room?
    • There’s also a lack of training in how to effectively present when you have an audience in the room with you, and an audience in cyberland virtually appearing at a table across from you. Even the Telepresence host overwhelmingly directed his presentation to the people in his room, only occasionally acknowledging the audience on the other side.
  • It is solely for seated meetings, so not a great solution for energetic collaboration, brainstorming, or facilitation. You need to stand and change the dynamics in the room to do this really well.

Ultimately, these are good reminders for all in-person communications. The hard part is to bring your communications to a conscious level, where you are always thinking of the total experience.

One comment on “Cisco’s Telepresence: A huge hit, but there’s a big miss

  1. I always wonder why companies like Cisco invest a lot of R&D in getting a higher-resolution picture of the people present instead of finding a solution for the replacement of the live meeting powerpoint screen and scribble white board. People drawing, writing down key points, underlining things, sketching, visual thinking, this is how the attention of a group gets focussed. I have never been in a video conference where this level of group interaction was the same as in a live meeting.