"Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation." - Elizabeth Drew
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"The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway." - Henry Boye
Colleges and organizations throughout the state and country are slashing travel budgets to save money. We've done the same thing here at CCC Confer, and I have to admit that I don't miss the hotels, restaurant tabs, tips, airports, toll roads, car rentals, packing and unpacking, lost items, or germy travel environments as much as I thought I might. And I'm getting more done - with more people - by staying in my office and meeting with them virtually. Now that more people are foregoing statewide trips, I'm getting more opportunities to introduce them to the quickest, easiest, and most effective way to bring teams from different geographical locations together.
I recently helped to host an event at a local college that required speakers and attendees to drive to the event, food to be prepared and served, tables to be set up, equipment to be arranged, and a sound and video system to be tested. It took two hours to set up the room, ensure that the microphones and projector were working properly, skirt and decorate the tables, and work with the caterers. The keynote speakers each drove more than 100 miles to attend, so they also needed two hours advance time to get to the meeting and another two hours afterward to drive home.
For the same event, if it were to be held virtually, it would require less than five minutes to order the meeting and send e-mail invitations to all attendees. Loading the speakers' presentation might take another two minutes, and testing the audio connections might add another minute. In less than ten minutes, we'd be ready to go, and no one would have had to leave the home or office!
In the large room where my local college's event was held, there were corners of the room where it was difficult to see and read the speakers' slides, and even the P-A system was unable to bring an equally clear signal to all participants. The sunlight streaming through the windows reduced the visual clarity of the content, making it even harder to make out all of the images on the screen. In a Confer presentation, everyone sees exactly the same images and hears the same audio signals: there are no "cheap seats" in this environment and no problems with lighting. One of the speakers, anticipating potential problems with the room and presentation, brought more than 100 paper copies of his presentation, which had to be distributed throughout the room. In the Confer meeting room, a single click distributes a file instantly to all participants (even those who aren't in attendance but are able to view the archive later).
I'm not celebrating the budget crisis or decrying the virtues of travel. After all, I've got a collection of school gear from California colleges that can only be complete if I'm able to visit more schools. But there's no question that we waste a lot of time and money with face-to-face meetings that can easily be saved by taking the meetings online. With a good agenda, a prepared moderator, and motivated team members, you can accomplish more in a virtual meeting than is possible in most face-to-face conferences. I'm just happy that so many of my colleagues are discovering this for themselves and coming away from Confer experiences pleasantly surprised.