When you sit down to plan your meeting's audiovisual needs, start with a basic question. Will your meeting be presentation style or collaboration style? In a presentation style meeting, answers and ideas are offered to the audience; in the collaboration style meeting, questions and issues are explored and the answers arise as a result. Think of it this way: If you start with the answers and end up with questions, then you are in a presentation-style meeting. If you start with questions and end up with answers, you are collaborating.

Why does this matter? Because the audiovisual technologies used to support these meeting styles are very different. Let's take a closer look.

Presentation Style In a presentation style meeting, most information flows from the presenters to the audience. There may be some interactivity, but most of the dialogue is in the form of questions to the presenter (the famous question-and-answer period). Typically, these meetings are for medium or large audiences.

Presentation style meetings are the most common, involving large-screen display of computer-generated graphics and PowerPoint slides. Depending on the size of the room and audience, image magnification may be used to help connect the presenter and audience. The event may involve an overhead projector and/or slide projector. There may be microphones set up for the audience, but most of the technology is applied toward the presenter, and very little is used by the attendees.

Collaboration Style A collaboration style meeting typically begins with a presenter who introduces the issues or presents a challenge. Small groups then work to discover or create answers to the questions. Facilitators may be used to keep the dialogue moving and record progress. Typically, collaborative meetings are designed for smaller groups.

The technologies supporting collaborative meetings are more complex and costly. Some or all of the elements described for a presentation style meeting are still needed, plus more for the audience. For instance, interactive meetings often use wireless handheld microphones with automatic mixers or a "delegate" microphone system for roundtable set-ups. There may be audience response keypads, or a system that allows participants to send laptop images to the main room display for group viewing. Interactive whiteboards can be used to record and display group ideas or create handouts and video cameras are useful to record role playing.

Far-Flung Connections How does videoconferencing fit into these meeting styles? Videoconferencing via satellite (more expensive) or point-to-multipoint via a bridge (less expensive) can be used effectively for presentation style meetings. Compressed videoconferencing using set-top appliances or roll-about, self-contained units are used more for collaborative meetings now that the costs have come down. And with teleconferencing, other collaboration technologies may be used, such as interactive whiteboards and document cameras.

So, which is it? Presentation, collaboration, or something in between? In any case, consider your audiovisual needs early. You'll strengthen your event and reinforce your message.