TWENTY YEARS AGO, when I sat down in front of a computer for the first time, my palms were sweating and my heart was beating a mile a minute. I had the same reaction of trepidation and excitement when I sat down in front of a computer on August 10, 2004 — only this time it had a little camera attached to it and I was about to participate in my very first webcast.

Like many people, I have an uneasy relationship with technology. I can't imagine life without my computer. I am completely dependent on it for my work. Heaven forbid that I should ever have to clunk along on a typewriter (remember white-out?) or, worse, read my own handwriting on those yellow-lined notepads I used to write entire 3,000-word articles on. But I fear technology as much as I love it. Whenever I am required to do something new, even the simple task of downloading a new software, I feel anxious. I've learned that “easy” isn't necessarily so when it comes to me and technology.

The webcast linked me from my telecommuting office in Nottingham, N.H., to a session of the Lynette Owens Summer Advisory Board in Daufuskie, S.C. I saw them, they saw me, and we had a real-time conversation. Very cool. I was helped every step of the way by Rene Lacape of GlobeCube, the San Diego online communications company that provided the technology. While nothing beats face-to-face meeting time, this was a great alternative.

It was easy, but it wasn't flawless. Here's what I learned:

  • Today, you don't need cumbersome equipment or a big budget for a simple videoconference. The camera is small and light, clips onto your computer, and costs about $100.

  • The more up-to-date the operating system, the better off you are. I would have had to “load drivers” in my work computer, a MAC. (There go those sweaty palms again). Instead, I borrowed my husband's new laptop with a Windows XP Professional operating system that “recognized” the hardware.

  • Do a test run. Not only does it help you become familiar with the process, but it allows you to get the giggles out of the way when the camera's close-up makes you look like you're in a funhouse mirror.

  • Speech will make a loop and cause an echo unless you turn off the meeting room computer's microphone when the remote participant is talking, or ask all speakers to wear headphones. Because I heard an echo, I talked v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.



Meet Us at the Motivation Show

If you're attending The Motivation Show this year, mark your calendars for our booth, number 4514, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 28. I'll be there, along with my fellow editors Betsy Bair, ICP's editorial director and editor of our weekly e-newsletter, MeetingsNet Extra; and Barbara Scofidio, editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives. Special guest Steve Bova, the new executive director of ICPA, will also be joining us. For an added incentive, there's a nice prize for the first 50 readers to show up. Hope to see you there!