Crew Call: It’s a Jungle in Here


“Groundhog Day” by Chris Piascik is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Have you seen the movie “Groundhog Day”? You know, the one where Bill Murray is forced to repeat one day over and over?

Well, here it is a quarter past Groundhog’s Day 2021, and I don’t think any of us expected that we’d still be conducting our lives — business and otherwise — online. But let’s not distract ourselves with what’s in the rearview mirror. Folks in the AV industry are smart and intuitive, and generally a bunch of MacGyvers. I think we can be proud that our knack for adaptation has helped to keep businesses running and people communicating. And by “knack for adaptation,” I mean “devoting the past year to convincing thousands of clients that videoconferencing REALLY works, and is not a status symbol for the executive boardroom.”

So far, so good. But I’m not sure that the average bystander appreciates the pioneer spirit it’s taken to navigate the virtual jungle that is the videoconference. If you’re a regular Crew Call reader (thank you), you may remember a modest survival guide I provided for attendees of a previous, live InfoComm. Taking the late, great zoologist Marlin Perkins and his long-running show, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” as inspiration, I helped my fellow InfoComm attendees navigate the perils of the dense, artificially misted jungles of Las Vegas, and avoid such pests as the definitely not socially distanced Lobby Lizard and the Yellow-Bellied Salesucker

Well, every environment has its own homegrown bugs, and videoconferencing is no different. Whether you are running the meeting, or simply sitting still, hoping your RAF (Resting Attentive Face) has convinced the meeting organizer you are paying attention, it’s a good idea to know the creatures that are waiting for you in the virtual meeting biosphere.

For example, there’s usually a lull of three-to-five minutes before the conference begins, where early birds scroll through spreadsheets and the meeting organizer glares at her admin, having discovered “billed” spelled “bilked” on slide 37. The next to log in is usually the Team Meteorologist, who crushes these last few moments of prep time with cheery reports about the weather. Related to the Team Meteorologist is the Warp Speeder, who is typically seven minutes late, reporting that Siri took him where no man has gone before. If you’re keeping count, the Team Meteorologist and the Warp Speeder have combined forces to waste 10 minutes of our time. But that’s okay, as the Kennel Club (attendees with barking dogs) and the PTA (who brought their children) are about to log in.

Meanwhile …

A novice we really shouldn’t make fun of is anxiously muting and unmuting what may or may not be a microphone icon on his screen. (It’s the Launchpad button on his dock.)

Various unnecessary attendees keep adjusting their headsets, leaving us to battle an audio landscape that sounds like cats tiptoeing across a sheet of aluminum foil. And speaking of landscapes, a Creative Type has discovered the ready-made backgrounds that allow you to pretend you are not sitting on your unmade bed folding socks at 2 p.m., but are instead working on the space station, riding a camel through the sands of Egypt, or wrestling alligators in St. Augustine, Florida. This is fine, I guess, but he or she will be upset when three others in the meeting have chosen the same exotic background. Finally, we have to contend with THE EXPERT who logs in last and begins to instruct (incorrectly) the other attendees on how to solve their technical issues, based on his extensive experience with GarageBand.

Fortunately, the actual group composition is of little concern to most of us. In fact, research indicates that for every group of 30 in-person meeting participants, 26 are thinking about something entirely unrelated to the meeting. The same applies to videoconference attendees, many of whom are actually doing their email and waiting for the summary memo that could have substituted for the entire meeting.

And here we have an opportunity for a segue. For 30 years, videoconferencing has essentially been an emerging technology. 2020 made it an essential business tool, where we have been forced to manage most of the technical issues. In 2021, we have the opportunity to refine presentation, and improve upon the takeaway for every attendee. We ought to seize that opportunity.

People lose interest and do not participate fully because our current approach to videoconferencing lacks the element of presence. Next time, we’ll take a serious look at helping your customers achieve presence, and win the quest for attention.

Stay safe, and wear a mask. (Wear two — they’re small.)

All the best,