Now that school is back in session, entire families will be spending more and more time on online video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and more. Now everyone can experience the joys (and pains) of video conferencing! I’ve been on hundreds of videoconferencing calls this year. Some are enjoyable, some are not so enjoyable, and some are absolutely cringe-worthy.
Unlike in-person meetings, poor video conferencing issues totally kill the energy and vibe of an online session. During in person sessions, if there are technical difficulties, participants can fill the time chatting with one another, getting coffee, or take a break. However, during online sessions, participants often don’t leave and the technical issues are greatly amplified.
Some of the common issues with video conferencing:
- Choppy video
- Poor audio quality
- Poor lighting
Below you’ll find some tips and tech recommendations that can help enhance videoconferencing for you as a host as well as a participant.
1. Strong Internet Connection
Unlike other forms of media, videoconferencing requires a strong internet connection. The best option is to use wired internet (such as by using an ethernet cable that connects your router directly to your computer). If that’s not available, wifi can work assuming it is high speed and also that your computer is in a good coverage range. If you have high speed internet, but you are taking the video conferencing calls away from the router, you are not likely going to be in a good coverage range and will need something to boost your wifi.
- TP-Link AV600 Powerline Ethernet Adapter — Plug&Play, Power Saving, Nano Powerline Adapter, Expand Home Network with Stable Connections (TL-PA4010 KIT) (Amazon — $37.99): (H/T to my student Armon for this recommendation. Thanks Armon!)
- Amazon eero mesh wifi system (Amazon — $249): My home office is in the basement and our router was on the main flour so I was having trouble getting wifi signal. With eero, my wifi speeds doubled and I even get strong coverage in our backyard. Note, you might not need a 3-pack. If you live on 1 floor or 2 floors, you could get the 2 pack which is a little cheaper.
2. Clear Audio: Microphones
One of the worst aspects of a video conference is not being able to listen to either the host or the participant clearly. Oftentimes, people make the mistake of using their laptop or computer microphone. Audio quality strongly varies. Having crystal clear audio makes a great experience for everyone. I recommend buying an external microphone as it significantly improves the quality of the audio. It also adds a degree of professionalism if you include it in the video shot.
- Yeti Blue Microphone (Amazon — $269.99): This will give you basic podcast quality audio. These normally run around $150 but due to the pandemic, it seems like there’s a shortage and the price seems to have gone up.
3. Clear Audio: Headsets
While microphones are great (especially if you want to do a podcast), they are not always the optimal choice. If you live in a house with others or there are other sources of background noise, you might find it challenging using a microphone. A headset is a simple solution to that problem.
- NUBWO Gaming Headset (Amazon — $29.99): This is a pretty affordable headset with crystal clear audio. Note: the microphone is pretty sensitive so if it’s too close to your mouth, you may get a ‘popping’ effect when you pronounce a word that start with P. External microphones (like the Blue Yeti I recommended above) deal with the popping issue by having a screen. Unfortunately, headsets don’t have screens. Instead, you’ll have to just adjust the microphone on the headset to determine what a good distance is in relation to your mouth. Too far and it might not pick up the audio that well, too close and you might get a popping noise.
4. Clear Video: Webcams
Similar to built-in microphones, built-in webcams on laptops vary greatly. Some laptops have great webcams, others not so much. One way to mitigate this issue is by buying an external webcam.
- Webcam with Microphone 1080 HD Streaming USB Computer Webcam (Amazon — $35.99): There are a lot of webcams out there, you don’t need the most high tech one. The most important thing is that it has some sort of HD component so that the video doesn’t come out fuzzy. You want crisp, clear video.
5. Good Lighting
All of the video and audio won’t matter if you don’t have decent lighting in your room. The ideal solution is a 3 point lighting system. Two in the front and one on the side or in the back to add depth. If a 3 point lighting system doesn’t work, you can settle with a two point lighting system.
- Emart LED Video Light (Amazon — $52.99): You can use this basic lighting system to add a two-point light system so that the lighting is spread evenly on the call. You can increase / decrease the brightness as needed.
6. Backdrops & Backgrounds
Unlike working in an office where you have a professional background, if you are working from home, you might not be able to work in a nice part of your venue. If your kids are doing distance learning or you live with other adults who also have calls, it can be distracting to take a call in a common area.
The best option is to have a backdrop that is largely plain with some alternative lighting that change hues. It adds a subtle touch and doesn’t distract from you as a host. Some people like to use bookshelves as a backdrop, but I find that to be distracting if they are too close behind the speaker. If you are going to use bookshelves as a backdrop, I recommend adding some depth (perhaps 4–6 feet).
If you have no choice but to take the call in a part of the venue that doesn’t have a great back drop, consider using a virtual background (this may require a green screen or a laptop that meets certain specifications). Virtual backgrounds can be a fun way to engage with your audience.
With strong wifi, good audio, and clean video, you should be set when it comes to having a good videoconferencing experience. What tech and/or tips do you recommend to great an enjoyable videoconference?