For the past several months I’ve been working on a project that involves being on a video conference call pretty much 8 hours per day with people all across the US. This has been an interesting experience and I wanted to share some of my tips for making video conferencing work effectively.
1. Good lighting
Typical webcams look 100 times better when they have enough light. Adding a few light bulbs can make a huge difference in improving the way you look on the screen. I purchased some large CFL daylight balanced bulbs. They keep me from looking pink or blue and make the quality of my images much better than what it looks like without the lighting.
If you can get sunlight from a window that is great. Just make sure it isn’t behind you otherwise the camera will compensate and make your face look very dark.
2. Good camera
The camera built into your laptop is probably not the highest quality camera you have. I’ve had pretty good results using a camcorder as my camera. It lets me zoom in in order to show exactly what I want. I mounted it on top of my monitor using a flexible tripod that I can twist around to hold it in the right place securely. Many camcorders have a manual white balance which can go a long ways toward making your image look natural without needing to buy a bunch of color balanced lights.
3. Pay attention to how you look
Make sure you keep a preview window open to see how you look to the remote viewers. I’ve seen people work all day with the camera showing just their forehead or half of their face. Others look like they are in the witness protection program because a bright window behind them makes them show up as a silhouette.
4. Look them in the eye
If you want to make eye contact, you will need to look into the camera. The ideal place for the camera is in the center of the image of the people you are talking to. Obviously that isn’t possible, but you want to keep it as close as you can. If you put your camera on the opposite side of your desk from the video of everyone else, it will look like you are looking away every time you look at someone to talk to them.
Even if you have the image and camera close together, you may want to try looking directly into the camera when you talk just so other people see you looking them in the eye. It is a small thing, but it can help make you more personable by giving people the same experience they have in person.
5. What is behind you?
Be very careful what is going on behind you–particularly if you are working at home. I’ve been on video conferences where the camera was pointed into the main part of the house and someone walked by wearing a towel!
6. Prioritize your bandwidth
If you are dealing with video and audio, it is probably a good idea to give it the priority over your other web traffic. Many mid to high end home routers come with the ability to prioritize some traffic over others. For example, if I am trying to load a web page at the same time my video conference is trying to send video, the video goes out first and the web page stuff only goes out in between what the video needs to send.
Make sure you have an easy way to mute an unmute and a way to tell whether you are sending audio or not. I was involved in a project where everyone worked together on video conference all day. I had to make a call to reserve a hotel and forgot to mute. Later people told me that I read my credit card number out to about 10 people.
If you work at home being able to quickly mute is especially important if you may have kids or pets suddenly making loud noises in the background.
8. Wear pants
You may think you will only be seen as a headshot, but don’t count on it. You might stand up, pickup your laptop, etc. I once heard about the CEO of a company who was doing a video conference from his home. He was wearing a nice suit, but when he stood up (thinking the conference was over) he was only wearing boxers from the waist down.