12/10/2012 10:56 BST | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 GMT

How Can We Drive Truly International Debate?

If you think about it, most of communication is visual rather that oral - it's far easier to understand what someone really means or feels when you can see them face-to-face, rather than talking to them over the phone. However, as we progress technologically, less-and-less time is spent face-to-face.

Audio-only communication is fine for certain business purposes and, talking to family and friends, but isn't it so much more enjoyable and easier to understand nuances and people's feelings when you can see the person you're talking to?

And, this is borne out in academic research, perhaps most famously that conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian. He cites three elements in face-to-face communication: words, tone of voice and non-verbal behaviour (e.g. facial expressions).

The latter elements he believes are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when words disagree with the tone of voice and non-verbal behaviour. In that situation, people tend to believe the tonality and non-verbal behaviour, rather than the words themselves.

That's why BT Conferencing and Polycom partnered with The Institute of Art and Ideas for its HowTheLightGetsIn philosophy and ideas festival earlier this year - so we could bring a range of world-renowned speakers to Hay-on-Wye from around the globe to help stimulate the debate and create a unique experience for those attending. Last week saw the first of these debates now posted online - with top names in the philosophy world debating whether we could and should view mathematics as the ultimate force in the universe.

Our video conferencing services enabled the speakers, including Stephen Pinker in New York, Wade Davis in Washington and Peter Singer in Melbourne, to take part in live discussions 'face-to-face' with those speakers and panellists in the International Tent at the festival.

Audiences enjoyed the truly international element to the event, which allowed the debates to flow more freely and naturally, as those taking part were able to see one another and understand the non-verbal cues that are so important in human interaction.

Video conferencing technology has advanced beyond all recognition in recent years, and professional services like ours, in partnership with Polycom - whether broadcasting from a managed professional TelePresence suite, on mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, or from a home office - allow people to easily interact as if they would if they were in the same room.

This is ideal for events like HowTheLightGetsIn, but is equally applicable to business and other disciplines such as academia. It allows colleagues to collaborate in a more natural way, wherever they are in the world, building a better working relationship and helping drive better results. It also helps cut costs by reducing travel requirements which, in turn, has allowed organisations to reduce their carbon footprint.

It's all well and good providing the technology and telling people how good it is, but we actually use the video and audio conferencing services ourselves. Across BT Group we've reduced our carbon intensity by 59 per cent since 1997, which has been helped by using conferencing services to cut travel across the business.

For more information about how BT Conferencing and Polycom are helping businesses to communicate more effectively, visit