Teleconferencing can bring people together, but it doesn't necessarily provide the ideal environment for communication.
Between the expense of travel and the shortcomings of teleconferencing lies videoconferencing, which allows parties to meet face-to-face, if not in the same room, and absorb most of the subtleties of the communication that might otherwise be lost in a telephone conversation.
"The weakness of teleconferencing is if you have five or six people in a teleconference, there are inevitably two or three people who get tuned out," says Robert Berthold, who manages the Pittsburgh franchise of Interactive Videoconferencing Centers, a Braintree, Mass., company.
The perceived advantages of videoconferencing to businesspeople and other professionals has encouraged four Pittsburgh investors to put up $50,000 to set up the second franchise nationally of IVC, a company that offers a package of videoconferencing services.
As Berthold points out, the cost of airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars and meals can make videoconferencing look like a cost-effective way to do business. While charges vary, use of the Pittsburgh office's large conference room comes to a little less than $600 an hour.
The company's first franchise set up shop in Philadelphia. IVC hopes to have locations in 60 cities by the end of the year, Berthold says.
Lawyers gathering expert testimony or deposing witnesses, sales organizations, and deal makers negotiating over long distances are all the types of clients that IVC expects will use its videoconferencing services.
For our money, anything that does away with those annoying speakerphones is a giant leap forward.