Video conferencing from home

Apr 3, 2020 - Robert Thurston

A brightly lit recording studio

Video conferencing, like many things, is a skill which must be practiced and honed. Recently a large number of people have found themselves working from home or alternative work locations, relying heavily on video conferencing solutions to keep them connected to their co-workers and customers.

Consider adopting a few of these recommended best practices to improve your experience with video conferencing.

Understand your studio

Every video production starts with the scene, and your “home studio” is an important consideration.

Traditional offices tend to be conservatively decorated and relatively free of loud noises and distractions (hopefully.) However, a home environment is different.

Set dressing is important - While often your decoration style reflects your personality, does it reflect well on your organization and your professional reputation? If you are not sure, try setting up a test call with your video conferencing solution beforehand to see exactly what is “in frame” when the camera starts recording. If you need to, consider hanging up a clean and neutral colored sheet as a backdrop.

Quiet on the set - Noise and distractions can also be a problem for a successful video conference. If you can, find a space where you can work uninterrupted and maybe even “lock the door” so you don’t have uninvited guests disturb you during an important call, potentially causing embarassment.

Costume and makeup - Make sure your personal appearance is up to par. While you may not go so far as putting on stage makeup, dressing sharply, grooming yourself and avoiding the dreaded “headset hair” can all be very important to how others perceive you on a video call.

Practice “conference discipline”

Mute your mic – As a courtesy to others, mute your microphone when you are not speaking. While this can occasionally result in you forgetting to unmute, your co-workers will be much more forgiving of a minor gaff as opposed to the constant sound of rustling papers or other background noise.

Slow connection – If you, or others on the call, have a limited Internet connection (or a metered mobile connection) consider disabling video. While this may not provide an immersive experience, it is better than struggling with choppy video and audio.

Whatever you do, don’t make dismissive facial expressions (like the famous “eye roll”) or rude gestures on camera. Sometimes, people are in the habit of thinking that they are “out of sight” from their experience on telephone conference calls. Web video conferencing is different and, at the risk of being redundant, the people on your call will see you!

Keep your video conference secure

A sign stating restricted access

Recently a number of organizations have been facing incidents of intrusion into web conferences. This type of disruption can result in offensive content being broadcast into your call and is colloquially known as “Zoom-bombing” based on the video conference software of the same name.

In order to avoid this type of issue consider:

Password protecting your meetings - If your software allows you to, consider password protecting your meeting so that people cannot join with simply the meeting number. This method can help prevent unwanted visitors to your next conference call.

Use a waiting room or lobby - Another method available in many video conference platforms is the concept of a “lobby” in which callers must be manually “admitted” to the conference call by the owner of the call before they are connected. Often, people in the lobby will only hear hold music or tones while they wait to be admitted.

Control the distribution of meeting invites - If you share your meeting invite with others, especially outside your organization, it can be difficult to “put the genie back in the bottle”. It is especially important that you don’t broadcast your meeting ID or invite URL on public forms such as social media, if you don’t intend to open your meeting to the public. Keep in mind that the “public” in terms of the Internet can be a much more sinister crowd than you may experience in your day to day life in your hometown.

Control recording settings – Some video conference software can be configured to display an alert when the meeting host begins recording. This is a good practice to provide transparency about when people and content are being recorded. However, it is important to understand that attendees can still screen shot or record your software surreptitiously via their own PC using various forms of software. Be careful and deliberate about what content you screen share or present via a video conference.

Mute the audience - In large group meetings, consider muting your audience to prevent a “hot mic” or other background noise from unintentionally, or otherwise, interrupting the presentation. Some technologies, such as those available via Microsoft Teams are even starting to provide AI enhanced audio filtering, which can filter out sounds like those of a crinkling bag of potato chips and other annoyances.

Stay up to date - Information security agencies such as the FBI and DHS US-CERT occasionally publish guidance which can help keep you secure. Keep an eye on these agencies’ announcements for the latest information on how to keep yourself and those around you safe.

Put on a show!

A video production studio, darkly lit

Professional grade video production is not feasible with low cost web cameras and built in laptop microphones. If your business, brand or reputation are being portrayed via video conferences, consider taking your video production skills to the next level:

Don’t sit with a window behind you - Lighting plays a key role in video production. If you are able, place yourself with the window in front of you. Otherwise you may end up looking like you are trying to “conceal your identity” if the sunlight washes out the camera image.

Place your camera at eye level - Doing so will reduce distortion in your screen image and make your appearance seem more natural. If you need to, consider buying a small tripod for your web camera to place it in just the right location.

Look at the camera, not the screen - While it may seem unnatural at first, try to look at your camera and see your screen with your peripheral vision instead. This will provide a more natural video experience for your meeting attendees and viewers, which can help put them more at ease.

Consider buying some lights - YouTube and Twitch stars have been streaming video online for years now, and most of the more successful Creators invest in some professional grade lighting equipment like that you might find in a professional movie studio. These Creators do this for good reason, as again, lighting is key to a quality video image. Consider buying a small purpose-built lighting rig to make sure your face is clear on camera.

Consider buying a better microphone - Your audience is going to have a hard time hearing you if you are simply using the microphone built into your web camera or your laptop. Moreover, these types of microphone are often more susceptible to “clicks”, “pops” and audio feedback. Minimally, you should be using a USB headset, which are fairly inexpensive. However, consider getting a more professional microphone, like those used for the production of podcasts or other online streaming content, many of which are available at most popular electronics retailers.

AlasConnect is here to help you with your team collaboration, video conferencing and cloud adoption needs. If you or your organization is struggling with Work From Home or similar arrangements, let’s talk about how we might be able to help.