Adapting to video conferencing for work and recreation
Who would have thought a year ago that video conferencing would become an essential service for students, teachers, and employees all over the world? How can you get the most out of video conferences with your devices? Many of you have used Skype since it was released 17 years ago. It is a free telecommunications application that specializes in providing video chat and voice calls between computers, tablets, and mobile devices. I use it weekly to connect with my family throughout Germany and the US. In 2011 the program ZOOM was released, and in this unprecedented year quickly became the most popular platform. But there are many competing programs, such as Microsoft Teams, Webex Meeting, Facetime, Whatsapp, Google Hangout and Meeting.
In my opinion, a combination of several video conferencing tools for different needs makes the most sense. Most of these programs are free, or have at least a free entry-level version with a limited amount of time and/or users per session. Facetime works on Apple mobile devices, WhatsApp is good for free video calls and messaging on any cell phone. ZOOM and Google Meet/Hangouts are designed for desktop or laptop computers, but can work on phones and tablets. Google Meet in its Workspace Enterprise edition allows up to 250 people and the ZOOM Enterprise+ plan can host up to 1,000 participants. At the moment, basic ZOOM is free for hosting up to 100 participants up to 40-minutes, but one to one meetings are unlimited.
So what do you need for high quality video conferencing? An electronic device with a web camera, microphone, and speakers is a must. Most cell phones and tablets already have these features built in. For standard desktop setups, you would need to get a webcam. Consider adding a new webcam to older laptops to deliver better video quality. But be aware that at the moment, “good” webcams are in high demand, which means that they are either not available or very expensive.
High Speed Internet
The quality of a conference also depends on a stable, fast internet connection. If you are on a limited data plan, you might have to lower your video quality in order to decrease the bandwidth and data usage amount. For desktop and laptops, using a wired ethernet connection should give you the best connection. If you use wireless and the connection is too slow or dropping out from time to time, try to place your computer workspace close to your router or a good reception point.
If you do video conferencing regularly, you might consider getting a wired headset which includes a microphone. This prevents annoying feedback from your speakers, too.
If you’re using a laptop and have several hours of conferences a day, it’s good to have a cooling pad under your laptop to keep it from overheating. And a solid state drive upgrade can also improve your operation speed and lower the heating of your device.
Choose a non-distracting location with good natural light, but not too bright in the background. It’s best to close the blind and/or curtains on your windows. Try to light your face from the front or side. There are many special lights on the market for this. For instance, my wife uses a clip-on variable USB light with a cellphone clamp when recording videos for her students.
One feature that one of my daughters uses on Skype is “blurring the background”. This keeps the viewer focused on her and less on the stuff around her. Sometimes she chooses a background which makes it look like she is sitting on the beach, although she is skyping from her living room. Some video conferencing regulars have installed special curtains or painted a “green screen” on the wall for TV-quality backgrounds. ZOOM offers a palette of virtual backgrounds, too. But backgrounds can get really distracting when attendees decide to change them up during a conference.
Not just for work
If you haven’t tried video conferencing yet, I encourage you to try it out to stay in touch with friends and family you can’t see in person due to these difficult isolated times!
Smile and relax before your call.
Position your camera at eye level, so you are looking straight into it, not up or down.
Be dressed appropriately for the camera frame.
Stay organized and focused. Do not try to multitask on other devices, and keep your screen clear of any unnecessary windows and tabs that might distract you.
Remember to “mute” yourself when you are not speaking, and block unnecessary noise and distractions around you.
One security tip: It is possible for a device with microphone and a camera to be hacked and accessed remotely without your approval. My secretary usually unplugs the webcam when not using it; some people put tape over the built-in camera on their laptop, and some webcams have a slider to close the camera aperture.