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The Cognitive Burden of Conferencing

Intellor Group

Ten years ago, conferencing meant teleconferencing as often as web. Ten years ago, web conferencing vendors charged thousands – or tens of thousands – of dollars for large-scale web conferencing licenses. Ten years ago, large-scale meant more than a thousand attendees. Ten years ago, companies and government agencies planned, prepared, practiced, and maybe even prayed for successful large-scale conferences. Ten years ago, a host didn’t dream of going it alone; the conferencing service and a/v team led the way. Three years ago, the world changed.

Today, technology is expected to just work. And for the most part, it does. Today, we are expected to just get it. And for the most part, we do. But today, the leap from meeting room, onboard webcam, and team to auditorium, endpoints, onsite and remote staff… isn’t short. And today, we are juggling between multiple technologies. In fact, according to Enterprise Strategy Group, 81% of reporting organizations have deployed more than 6 communications and collaboration platforms.

For these reasons, Karin Reed’s application of the term cognitive burden to modern meetings hits home hard. Reed, co-author of Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting and oft-quoted expert in the field, uses the term in an interview with TechTarget. Specifically, she suggests a “chat monitor” can help the host – whose plate is presumably full facilitating the in-room conversation – by monitoring and amplifying the remote participants’ chat conversation. (Sidebar: chat monitor is only one of the roles she goes on to suggest in the book! Sounds kind of like a conferencing service, no?)

I get it. I have hosted or participated in meetings using four different technologies just this week. I’ve fumbled to find the full-screen view. Struggled to share seamlessly when they all work just a little differently. But those meetings were small, not all “my” technology, and included internal teams, friendly partners, and longtime customers – low risk and a lot of grace. So, a light cognitive burden if you will.

But as I walk through the building and peek into our production studios, I see the true cognitive burden. Our conferencing service staff are filling Reed’s “chat monitor” role, sifting through the dialog to surface key ideas. And while they’re at it, they’re providing technical support to the attendees asking for help and guidance to see and hear clearly or to engage with the platform and its apps. Bridging teleconferences into customers’ web platforms. Building, queuing up, and managing polls. Prioritizing Q&A. Managing the event ‘stage’ to ensure the right people and content are presented at each moment. Making sure that in-room and virtual audiences are heard. Coordinating with onsite a/v when tuning is needed. Keeping the balance – whether between in-room and virtual attendees or differing stakeholder groups. Seamlessly managing the event on a technology fundamentally different from the host’s internal, everyday platform. They’re halving the cognitive burden our customers carry, to paraphrase T.A. Webb.

The last three years changed everything. They advanced and multiplied the technologies that allow us to show, tell, ask, learn, and engage. They dispersed our audiences – in the room, on the road, at home. They raised expectations and stakes. They gave us a new cognitive burden to carry. And here at Intellor, they renewed the sense of purpose we bring to our mission – helping customers to communicate effectively through conferencing.