For many of us, our new work reality has shifted to working at home, and a big part of that is talking with co-workers, customers, and business associates through video conferencing. Communication software like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, and Facebook/Instagram live is becoming our daily practice. You need to keep in touch, have business meetings, take or give interviews, teach students, or give seminars all from your permanent or temporary home office. No matter what the environment is there are some basic tips that can help you create a better experience using video conferencing. Putting some extra thought into your lighting, surroundings, perspective, attention, audio, and the software tools will put you ahead of the crowd and can provide viewers with a great impression through video.
Find Your Light
Think natural light. Where do you have a space where you can have natural light from a window shining on from your side or from in front of you? Most offices are set up where the window (if there is one) is behind us. This makes the camera on your computer adjust to the bright light behind you making your face so dark, no one will be able to tell it’s you. If that’s your situation, can you turn 90 degrees? Even if it’s just sitting on another edge of your desk, this will make a huge difference and your video quality will instantly skyrocket. No windows available? Try a table lamp and put it to the side of your computer instead of relying on your ceiling lights alone. Ceiling lights are harsh and give you unflattering shadows. Supplemental lighting at eye-level can improve this.
Look at the Surroundings
Now that you can see yourself on camera, what can everyone else see on your camera? Do you have a pile of clothes behind you? Is it a messy bookshelf? Is it a high traffic area where your kids or pets go back and forth and can distract your co-workers from what they were saying? Take a few minutes to organize or clear out or maybe even set up the space to be visually pleasing. Maybe all you have is a blank wall. Simple can be better than too many things to look at. If it’s a common space, perhaps all you need to do is just communicate you need that space for the allotted amount of time or you give your dog a bone to chew in the other room.
Rule of Thirds
Camera position can solve a lot of problems as well. Most built in cameras at the top of large computer monitors give a birds-eye-view, increasing the size of your forehead and showing the pile of toys scattered all over the living room floor. When you’re talking to someone in real life, generally, you are looking horizontally at them and this is pleasing to us. Mimic this by raising your chair or considering a setup where you are at a stand-up desk so that when the video feed is on, the camera is at eye-level or just slightly above you. The top of your head should be just about touching the edge of the top screen and you should be able to see your shoulders and perhaps part of your biceps. Imagine movies we’ve seen in the past, like The Blair Witch Project, no one wants to see up your nose or just your eyes and all the memorabilia you have collected throughout the years while trying to discuss a potential sale for your product or service.
Stay focused! We try to multitask so we get distracted much easier and we start checking our Facebook or we get sucked into reading or replying to emails. Be mindful that people can tell when you’re not paying attention. Video conferencing allows everyone to see each other’s faces up close rather than in a large group around a table. Being attentive will make for a smoother call and show courtesy and professionalism.
Hear My Words
Most people are willing to overlook bad video if they can still communicate. But, bad audio will ruin a meeting. You can have a successful discussion without video (i.e. a phone call) but poor audio quality is frustrating in all meetings, and causes strain. Take a few minutes to look at all of the audio options (headsets, built-in microphones, etc) available to you in your house. Test them prior to your next meeting and see which one gives you the better results. In a quiet room your laptop’s speaker may be enough, but, if you have a noisy street a wired headphone with a microphone close to your mouth might be best.
Don't Hear My Words
You have found excellent audio quality, now mute yourself. If you are not speaking, you don’t want any potential background noise that happens in your room to be heard or to compete with what the current speaker is saying. You want everyone to hear the important information being conveyed but you also don’t want them to hear recycling truck doing its rounds either.
Shut everything down. Close your email, turn off your Reddit notification, close your browser tabs, mute your phone, etc. Not only will this prevent you from being distracted but alerts won’t go off during your meetings for everyone to hear and embarrassing emails won’t pop up if you are sharing your screen. Most computers will have a “Do Not Disturb” option you can turn on and off as you need during these meetings. This will help your CPU run smoother and help your internet speed remain more consistent. Following these simple tips doesn’t require expensive new equipment or software. In fact, if you practice and pay attention to your lighting, background, attendees, camera position, and know how to use simple software options your experience and results with video conferencing will be greatly improved today!
About the Author
Video Producer, The M&R Companies