July 2001
Issue 7
Volume 6

Hosting a Two-Way Videoconference
Customer Service Markets Purdue Extension
Grammar Trap: Toward vs. Towards

Hosting a Two-Way Videoconference

So, you've been asked to host a two-way videoconference. Now, what?

First, let's assume this is the right medium for your message. Then consider some simple things as you prepare.

Optimum Number

Two-way videoconferencing isn't a great one-to-many medium. It works best with no more than 7-8 sites. Managing meaningful interaction with more sites is too difficult.


Because TV is a passive medium, keep your program both active and interactive. To have a successful videoconference, you need to have a deliberate strategy for presentations and interaction. So agendas are a must.

Avoid long information dumps, and schedule segments in which interaction can take place. Slice the content into discrete chunks of information, and, again, leave places for interaction.

When initiating interaction, avoid a free-for-all style, which can lead to chaos. Connecting multiple sites requires deliberate handling of interaction. Think of a multitude of people talking on a party line, and you'll see what I mean. One strategy is to move through the sites alphabetically. Another is to number the sites and work your way through the sites that way.

You should also encourage remote sites to mute their microphones when they are not speaking, because the system uses audio priority, placing the person who is talking on screen.


If you're using graphics, make them larger than you normally would. Two-way videoconferencing doesn't offer the same image quality as traditional TV. Specifically, for creating PowerPoint slides, you want to use larger fonts, 28 point or larger.

Additionally, with PowerPoint, you want to be aware of colors and contrast. You want to use either light-colored letters against a dark background or the reverse.

Phone Numbers

Get the numbers of the sites you are connecting with. You may have to troubleshoot with them if there are problems.

Also get the numbers of any technology providers that may be assisting your connection. In most cases, it will be IHETS, but if you're originating from Purdue and are using Division of Instructional Services facilities, it would be a good idea to have the phone number of a technical contact there.

Final Thoughts

Hosting a videoconference is more complex than can be conveyed in a brief article, but consider the tips above and remember this fundamental advice.

  • Plan in advance.
  • Have a back-up plan, because technology doesnít always work.
  • Arrive early to work out any kinks.
  • Communicate pertinent details before and after your event.

Next month, I'll give some basic tips for participating in a two-way videoconference.

Randy Spears <spears@purdue.edu>

Customer Service Markets Purdue Extension

To me, great customer service in a non-profit organization is the first, and maybe the most important, step in marketing. Extension is about helping others gain knowledge and education. Excellent customer service in those areas helps brand our institution in the minds of our customers. And we cannot buy the goodwill that excellent customer service garners.

Customer service is so important that it warrants a plan. If you know how you will do each of the following to the best of your ability, you will have a good customer service plan, and you will be half-way toward writing a marketing plan. You may not think of each point on this list as customer service, but remember that how you do each one determines how you relate to your audience and how you bring knowledge and education to your customers.

Think through the following that apply to you, and write about how you will do each one. Describe how you will:

  • Answer the phone with the customer's needs in mind.
  • Meet with people one-on-one to help them solve a problem.
  • Use technology, such as the Web or e-mail, to meet thousands of people at a time to help each one solve a problem or gain knowledge.
  • Give a presentation so that every listener gains new and useful information.
  • Do media relations so that more customers know about your research or educational product.
  • Produce a newsletter that invites people to learn more.
  • Do direct mailings to reach the hard-to-reach, "special" customers.
  • Collect data so that you can communicate at the least cost to your audiences with information they need and want.
  • Reach targeted audiences, such as factory or store employees, with special flyers.
  • Get people to smile and think well of you as a representative of Purdue University.

When you think of your daily interactions with customers, you may think of other ways to improve customer service. If you come up with a topic not covered here or a specific plan for any of the points above, let me know so we can share with others.

Steve Cain <cain@purdue.edu>

Grammar Trap: Toward vs. Towards

Examples: I'm heading toward home. I'm heading towards home.

I like to write about grammar questions to which I know or can find an answer AND an explanation. This time, I knew what I used, but I wasn't sure why. So I looked it up.

Didn't help much.

The "AP Stylebook" (2000) said "toward not towards" but didn't tell me why.

The "Reference Handbook of Grammar and Usage" (William Morrow & Company, 1972) said that both words are acceptable but "toward" is "more common in the United States."

The "Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions" (McGraw-Hill, 1974) said the words were interchangeable but pointed out that "toward" is "one letter shorter and somewhat easier to pronounce" and suggested I "lean 'toward' the shorter word." (Get it?)

The wonderful Web site "Common Errors in English" ("On Target," March 2001, http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agcomm/ontarget/archive/ot3_01.html) explained that neither is "really incorrect" but offered that "toward" is "perhaps a smidgen more formal."

There you have it. You can pretty much take your pick.

But me, I'm headed toward home.

If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like to see discussed, or if you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.

Visit <../grammartrap/index.html> for past "Grammar Traps."

Laura Hoelscher <lah@purdue.edu>