Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are the new conference rooms. If you’re not used to this and you are working from home, then it pays to prepare a little for the fact that you are sort of inviting your work colleagues into your home environment, especially if you don’t have your own study or personal office space to work from.
In this new world of COVID 19 communications we are now finding ourselves in, more and more of us are meeting via video link.
Setting up your laptop or mobile device for a video conference meeting can be a little daunting when the chances are your previous experience of this has been a handheld Facetime chat after a few glasses of wine with the family as they wish you happy birthday.
Or you may even think that there’s nothing to it. Grab a coffee, sit on the sofa, join in the call.
If you’re using that same device and that some home location for a business meeting, then a few things probably need to change. Especially if that meeting is with people outside of your business and involves client discussions.
Even though I have been a freelance consultant working from home for many years, I have to say that I haven’t often participated in ‘virtual’ meetings over Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, and this period has been a learning process for me too.
So, how do you participate in online business meetings without looking like you’re sitting in your sweat pants eating last night’s pizza?
Here’s my checklist of things that I have gathered together after a few weeks of online meetings with various clients.
Appearance – an obvious one, but it pays to make a bit of an effort. Even if it’s something as simple as donning your company polo shirt minutes before the meeting, it makes you look a whole lot better and also it sets your mindset into ‘work meeting’ mode.
Battery power. Yes I know, kind of obvious yet I have had several participants of calls vanish for several minutes as they ran out of power and had to go fumbling for the charger. Whether it’s a laptop or an iPhone, all devices consume power at a far greater rate when video calling. So if you forgot to charge last night and it’s showing 30% when your call starts, you may well leave the meeting in an unplanned way.
Have a stable platform. If you’re on iPhone or other small device, get a way of mounting it. Hand holding an iPhone for a 45 minute video call not only becomes tiring, it also results on a poor experience for your audience. You will grow tired and allow your arm to drop. This means that not only is everyone getting a shaky view that induces motion sickness, we will all inevitably finish up looking up your nostrils as your arm sinks ever lower.
I have two iPhone mounts that work really well and are very cheap, I use different ones depending on where I am.
On both of these I have an Ailun phone clamp, with a 1/4 inch tripod mount. The beauty of this mount is that it allows you to rotate your device, depending on whether or not you want to be in landscape or portrait mode and it has a standard tripod thread on it that fits pretty much anything camera related.
If you’re sitting at a table or desk, then mounting this on a Manfrotto Pixl mini tripod is very stable solution. You’ll also find other uses for it too, so it’s not a waste of money.
If I am sitting at my lower writing chair, then I use a simple light stand like this one. You don’t need an expensive video head tripod as you are supporting very little weight.
Landscape or portrait? It depends. One of the problems with mobiles, of course, is that they have smaller screens that your main PC. If you are only on a meeting with one or two others, then it’s probably OK. however if you have multiple participants it becomes a problem.
For this reason, if at all possible I recommend landscape mode and ideally moving away from your mobile to at a minimum an iPad or other tablet. Preferably a larger laptop or desktop. If you’re on a laptop, then it’s best to put it on a flat surface, a table or desktop. You may also want to raise the height a little, as most laptop cameras are a little lower than the optimum.
The exception to this, I would suggest is if this is a one to one call and you’re both on mobile. Then you’ll probably find that portrait works best.
Do Not Disturb. This relates back to my previous post on home working. You definitely need to explain to anyone around the house that this isn’t a family chat with Prosecco and olives. This is work. The door is closed and unless the place is burning down, I don’t want to be disturbed until I say it’s finished. And I make no excuse for posting this clip, you’ve probably seen it before but damn it’s funny.
Your location. Where you are positioned makes a huge difference. Sit with a window ideally opposite you, so that the ambient light illuminates you. Sitting with the light source behind you will mean that everyone will only see a sinister shadow, making you look like Mr Big from a crime syndicate.
Take a look at what’s behind you and around you. All of the meeting apps have slightly different camera views. What you see on Skype is a little bit different to Zoom and so forth. Of course, you could simply swap out the background with one of the ‘virtual background’ wallpapers that are pretty cool right now, however I prefer to keep it real.
If that’s your view too, then enter the preview mode on the app you will be using and check what it looks like before the call starts. Look behind you at what’s in the shot. Are those your boxers or underwear drying on the dryer in the background? Might want to move them.
And the same may go for your screen desktop. Are you going to be screen sharing in the call? Have a very good look at what’s in the view, what’s live and what might be inadvertently disclosed. I don’t really care about your personal browsing habits. I was more thinking about your online banking and that set of text notes sitting open. Be careful.
If you are really struggling with a suitable location in your home environment that day, say the people next door decide to block pave the driveway and that Stihl Saw is revving away, then consider your car.
Take a short drive to somewhere without too much passing traffic, with minimum chance of interruption and mount your device on a cheap suction mount. In my line of work, I’ve many years of experience of rigging cameras on cars, so I found that easy. However, all you really need are a simple suction mount, this nifty SmallRig arm and the same Ailun iPhone holder.
Going forwards, I can definitely see the huge value on more frequent video calling. We can cover an awful lot of ground together and I have already had approaches from an overseas client who is thinking of working with me. That’s possibly something that may not have happened even a few weeks ago.
With this consideration in mind, I plan to invest in some more advanced equipment to improve the ‘production value’ of my conference calls. I’m not going for a fully on studio and sound set, with green screen and chat show layout. However I am looking at some simple, cost effective ways to bring a little more polish to it.
Want to Take Your Video Conferencing to The Next Level?
This video by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger shows his excellent setup for his Facebook Live transmissions.
Darren has been in the online education space for many years and is intensely knowledgeable on the subject of online presence. If you don’t have the time to watch the full video, here’s the take aways.
- Darren uses simple, relatively cheap lighting to achieve a nice soft illumination.
- He also uses an additional light behind him to balance the light and set a nice tone.
- He’s moved on from the generic webcam that comes on the Mac and uses a dedicated Sony camera on a mount that sits at eye level. He has a Sony A7, however as he says, that’s overkill. The Sony A6000 series is perfectly good.
- This lifts Darren’s posture and gives him a level gaze and eye contact. the camera doesn’t have to be an expensive one, you may already have one.
- He stands at a ’standing desk’ type of platform that he bought online from an office supplies company. Again, not expensive.
- He also invested in a dedicated podcasting mic that lifts the sound quality to studio levels.
- Finally, in his line of work, Darren often needs to share his screen so he has a small ‘mixing desk’ type of device that enables him to quickly swap views on the fly as he is broadcasting.
Ok, so collectively the cost of this setup starts to add up. It’s far from the temporary solution that many of us need right now, this is because Darren makes his living this way. However when related to the cost of redecorating your conference room, it’s tiny and it brings a whole new level of professionalism to the way you are projecting your brand.
If you are going to be conducting seriously valuable meetings via video going forward, even after your business has returned to work, perhaps it’s worth finding a way to create a dedicated online meeting area in your business?
Indeed, there’s a very valid view that we ought to consider our video conferencing setup as being equally as important as our physical meeting spaces in future.
List of resources and links:
Ailun iPhone clamp https://amzn.to/2TlEE2L
Manfrotto Pixi Tripod https://amzn.to/2LG086b
Inexpensive light stand https://amzn.to/2LFZJ3F
Sony A6400 https://amzn.to/3cOcR2B
Neewer LED lights https://amzn.to/3bI9bxW