If anyone has ever tried to overcome the barriers of distance and time to coordinate the schedules of a group of VIP’s and the like for a gathering, they can appreciate the need to be creative. Advancements in video conferencing and virtual meeting software have been amazing in their ability to bring people together across vast distances. The technology keeps getting better and better. The pictures are clearer, larger and more realistic than ever. And at least some of it is less expensive. Even the dream of pure “telepresence” like the “holodeck” of Star Trek fame is getting closer. But somehow there is still something missing. To paraphrase Marshal McLuhan, the medium is getting in the way of the message. Perhaps, we thought, we should see if we could model the unscripted and casual conversations of the dinner after the meeting.
So the other night we had our first virtual, Skype enabled, dinner party. We invited 6 VIP entrepreneurs and innovators to Kingbridge in King City, Ontario, while Elliott Masie and his guest Alan Davis, President of Empire State College, assembled at The MASIE Center in Saratoga, NY. With our free Skype connection and 47” LCD screens at each end we were able to break down the barrier of distance and enjoy a carefully coordinated meal together. From table cloths and seasonal place settings to the menu and wine selections the event was designed to close the gap and provide a much stronger feeling of ‘being there’. We started by introducing each other at a standing reception and moved to a dinner table where we shared the descriptions of our entrées and wine. The conversation flowed freely and openly. Elliott, always the geek, would periodically Google someone’s observation on his iPad and hold it up for the camera. Even the non-geeks (most of them) at the dinner were comfortable and open.
With simple technology and some virtual coordination we were able to increase the personalization, authenticity and comfort of this physical/virtual dialogue. Of course being entrepreneurial we are always looking for improvements. So we plan to hold some more of these gatherings and keep trying out new experiments…both technical and social. Elliott and I have already put together a list of guidelines or rules of engagement and plan to expand that significantly, perhaps into templates for gatherings for different purposes. We believe that the strategies for making these multimodality gatherings work well can dramatically improve collaborations at any level.
We would be happy to share information on the technical tools we used to make this work so well, as well as some of the strategies. Maybe you’d like to add some ideas, too.
Let me know. John.firstname.lastname@example.org