It simultaneously feels like an eternity and also just yesterday that our firm started working from home. In reality, it’s been only two months. For most of us, the use of video conferencing services like Zoom, WebEx, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts have gone from being a rarely used tool of last resort to a primary mode of communication.
Given the ubiquity of videoconferencing, here are some tips for improving the quality of this new communication medium:
1. Upgrade your camera. Most built-in cameras in laptops aren’t all that great. The resolution isn’t very good and the colors can be washed out. An easy solution: use your phone as a webcam — the cameras in phones are fantastic. It’s pretty easy to do: you just download an app and software that allows your iPhone or Android to be a webcam (I use iV Cam). The video quality is much better. Also, you can adjust the exposure and ISO. You’ll also probably want an inexpensive little tripod and a phone mount.
2. Improve your camera angle. It’s unnatural to view someone from below their face. Put your laptop or webcam up higher. It looks a lot better if the camera is at your eye-height or even a bit above your eyes. Also, the pros suggest that you be a bit off-center on the video screen.
3. Get your lighting right. You don’t want to be backlit – try not to sit in front of a window. Using a desk lamp to create inviting lighting that is natural also improves the shot.
4. Pick a nice, but non-distracting background. As fun as it is to have your background be your bookshelf, it’s also very distracting as viewers try to read the spines of your book or look at your pictures or nick-knacks on the shelves. A relatively plain, but tidy background is recommended.
5. Improve your sound. The built-in microphones on most computers leave a lot to be desired. A better option is to invest in some decent headphones with a microphone. Apple earbuds seem to work well. I bought a pair of gaming headphones that have a great microphone. Or, buy a decent microphone. For my video blogs I use this microphone: Blue Yeti
6. Upgrade your WIFI! We’re probably going to be doing a lot of videoconferencing from home for a long-time. Slow wifi is a problem when videoconferencing because it results in poor audio and video quality, dropped and frozen video. If this happens a lot to you it is probably worth the money to upgrade the speed with your ISP. Even if you have fast internet, a common problem is getting good wifi coverage throughout a house. A solution to this a mesh network in your house. My house is old (1946) and has plaster walls which interfere with the Wifi coverage . I replaced the router provided by my internet provider with google’s mesh wifi system. No more dead areas or slow spots! Here’s a competing product from Linksys: Velop Home Mesh Wifi. Mesh systems aren’t just extenders, rather they are interconnected nodes that create a strong network.
7. How To Fight Zoom Fatigue. If it seems you are more exhausted at the end of a day of videoconferences, you aren’t alone. There is something called “Zoom Fatigue” which occurs because participating in a videoconference requires more attention than an in-person meeting. Zoom Fatigue occurs for a few reasons, all of which relate to the fact that it’s not how we are used to social interactions:
- We rely on non-verbal cues when we communicate and video calls impair this ability because we can only see part of the person and/or the video quality might be poor.
- We often are looking at people from unnatural angles (hello double chin and a partial view of the room’s ceiling) which can be disorienting.
- It’s also disorienting to see the backgrounds of the people you are chatting with. If you are talking with six people it is like being in six different rooms simultaneously.
- On a video call, the only way we can signal that we’re paying attention is by looking at the camera/screen whereas in real life we don’t stare at someone else’s face from a few feet away. Similarly, our awareness of being watched is draining.
- Poor sound quality can be an issue. Straining to hear or having the person’s speech garbled by technological issues saps our attention.
Some tips from Harvard Business Review on combatting Zoom Fatigue include (1) build in breaks, (2) make your video conference meetings shorter than your regular in-person meetings, (3) hide your video view of yourself — we usually spend a lot of attention looking at ourselves, and (4) as great as video calls have been to reduce our sense of isolation there is no need to make every call a video call – make some old fashioned phone calls instead.
I just watched! hahaha. Thanks! I am teaching 3 year old preschool on zoom now…. as “host” my favorite button is “MUTE ALL” !!!!!! In class it usually took 1 ish minutes to get everyone quiet… not any more ! YAYAY!
If you want a good laugh pull up the most recent SNL skit where the “preacher” is trying to do a worship service using Zoom.
Thanks John! Another helpful tip and so timely. If there is anything I can do to help you please let me know. Best, Matt
#6 is a good tip. There are a lot of suggestions as to how to improve wi-fi throughout the house, but it’s difficutl to know which ones to trust. Right now I have a 100-foot purple ethernet cable snaking through my house so that I am hard-wired in all day, but that’s not a good permanent solution once we start having people in the house again. Thanks.