Telephone vs Video-conferencing

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With the advancement of video-calling in the last few years, including this year’s introduction of Apple’s FaceTime for the iPhone, we examine the benefits (and shortfalls) of both Tele- and Video-calling in the business world.

The first issue that often affronts the use of video-conferencing is ‘familiarity’ and how this relates to price. ‘Video-conferencing’ can be seen as a neologism, a new concept springing up on businesses from the technological ether, it seems both interesting and daunting; however the fact is that this method of communication was first presented nearly fifty years ago by AT&T Bell Labs at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. So why does it seem so, well new?

Firstly there are financial implications when installing and using video platforms. This has allowed big companies to successfully use this tool for years because they could afford to install the necessary platforms and had more teams globally they needed to converse with face-to-face. For smaller businesses video-conferencing has only become a possibility recently, as prices have decreased and the market for such platforms has widened. Also smaller businesses have only become more globalised in the last ten years, before then employees were mostly sent to conferences within your business’s region or country, now businesses might have employees from Japan to Brazil who need to speak face-to-face.

As video-conferencing becomes a more available possibility for businesses, what are the communicative advantages of its use?

On a linguistic level being able to see the facial expressions of the person you are talking to helps someway in counter-acting the difficulties of speaking to someone who doesn’t share the same first language as you.
Speaking over the telephone there may be cultural issues with the ambiguity of certain words, the way humour is conveyed or in the use of idioms; if you can see the delivery of someone’s speech than you may be better equipped to understand the pragmatic or implied meanings behind their words.

However, this advantage may not be a concern for shorter conversations.
So is it in fact the purpose of a discourse that determines whether video- or tele-calling is most useful? If you are simply placing an order with your supplier or ringing to check that a meeting has been held, then such a factual exchange of information should be sufficient to ensure both parties understand the other’s purpose. Furthermore, on a practical level it takes time to ensure a platform is working or set up, this time could be used to make a quick telephone call and in the case of urgent enquiries might be crucial in securing a deal. Therefore the telephone does still have a place in the conference market.

Leading on from this idea what are the other practical implications of making a video-call? On the plus side using a video-call might make it easier to conduct multi-way conversations (of more than two speakers) by avoiding the confusion of speakers talking at the same time or speakers’ having very similar accents. However, if you are making a video-call then you cannot simultaneously perform other tasks without your fellow speaker knowing, they will know that your full attention is not on them. This reduces video-calling to an ‘event’, something that must be pre-planned and organised. This requires either additional staff to run such operations or a reduction in the capacity of existing staff who must devote some of their time to the running of these conferences. Therefore both the speaker calling and the staff surrounding them are put at a disadvantage.

To conclude, whilst the video-call has become a popular means of communication for larger businesses there is still a key role for the telephone; this is especially important to smaller businesses who are likely to continue to hold some trepidation over the use of video-conferencing for at least some time to come.

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