7 Simple Ways to Optimize Video Conferencing Like a Pro

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Modern Problems Require Modern Solutions

Go from panicked to productive, even in the midst of a pandemic.

With the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), more and more people across the globe have been ordered or are choosing to conduct some, to even all of their work remotely from home, both as a measure to reduce the spread of the viral pandemic and to buffer the economic impact the virus is having on the world’s economy.

This creates a need to optimize video conferencing for end-users at home, and ensure they’re putting forward their best professional presentation even in virtual spaces like Zoom or other virtual conference calls.

In this article, we’re going to explore different ways you can create an optimal setup in your home, using common hardware and technologies that are readily available, to allow for better audio and video transmission as you take the necessary precautions to work remotely and safeguard yourself and your loved ones.

We’ll be covering the following topics, on how to:


These are some general tips you can quickly follow that will help you video conference better. While these tips are not intended to create a cinematic style video (which requires much more expensive gear), they’ll help you avoid common mistakes that can degrade the quality of video you transmit.

#1: Use Natural and Artificial Light to Your Advantage

It’s always good to be mindful of your setting when you’re teleconferencing.

Make sure your room is adequately lit with either natural or artificial lighting.

If your camera is built into your laptop, or is a mounted webcam that you can take into a better lit, better organized room, choose that room and strategically place the lights so that you’re getting the best possible composition for your shot.

And remember, you don’t always have to teleconference from your room if the weather is nice! Your deck, backyard, or balcony could always be a nice change of scenery – just be aware of how the time of day and cloud cover can affect the angle and diffusion of the light that falls on your face, and whether or not it’s desirable.

Check the section on lighting for more information on how to use light to your advantage when teleconferencing.

#2: Set Your Camera Up at a More Flattering Angle

How a shot is framed can make a tremendous impact on the feelings that are evoked in your audience.

The key here is to set up your camera neither too far below nor too high above your face.

You don’t want your camera to be looking down at you and making you look much smaller, or looking up at you and exaggerating your features if there’s a better angle from which you can capture video of yourself.

#3: Adjust Your Face For Maximum Symmetry

You may not be aware of this in the everyday, but in fact the majority of human faces are not perfectly symmetrical. There’s a trick to compensate for this, if it’s necessary.

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip:

Many people typically have one eye that is slightly larger than the other, or one side of their face stands out just a little bit more than the other – and you can slightly position yourself to be facing the camera at an angle where the slightly larger eye would be more distant from the other eye, imparting more symmetry into the image.


We’ll only cover one tip for lighting here – arguably the most important as far as this topic is concerned, without getting bogged down in a million details.

Remember, this guide is for getting a better setup fast – it’s not meant to reproduce studio quality lighting!

#4: Eliminate Harsh Shadows (Hard Lighting) From Your Feed

Try to position your lights strategically and be mindful of shadows.

If you have a light that is directly below or above your face, or at an angle that’s wide enough, that’s going to project harsh shadows onto your face.

You’ll have to either position your light more directly against your face at a narrower angle, or be facing a window during the daytime so that your face is well lit while your room lights act as a backlight.

If you really want to go all-out (and this is typically an added expense that’s probably not necessary) you’ll want to fill in the shadows cast on your face with a fill light. Here’s a more in-depth (5:30 minute) video explaining what fill and other light types do.

As an added tip, if you don’t want to create a 3-point lighting system inside your home teleconferencing studio, you can also just move standing lamps around your workspace to imitate more expensive setups without breaking the bank.


#5: Utilize Minimalism, Relevant Items, or the Outdoors for a More Aesthetically Pleasing Background

Implement minimalist interior design into your background.

In a nutshell, if you can have a blank or minimalist background, that will probably help.

Try to have your camera pointing somewhere neat and clean for the background.

Displaying your accolades or something relevant to the field you’re working in is also always in good taste: for example, a library of relevant textbooks and tomes on medicine, physiology, and scientific/medical journals if you are a physician. If you are an athlete, you might be able to display your equipment, or any medals, or whatever else you think is appropriate.


#5: Upgrade Your Hardware

You don’t need to get anything fancy, as long as it’s functional and relatively up to date.

You can always splurge on higher-end hardware, but we’ll only cover the most economical options here that still get the job done well.

Microphones: A great microphone choice is the BOYA BY-M1 lavalier microphone, as it’s inexpensive and clips onto your shirt, and you can keep an adequate distance between your mouth and the microphone at all times, giving your voice more consistency.

Another very good basic, powerful, and popular condenser microphone is the Blue Snowball – it’s easy to set up and if all you have is a basic $20 microphone, the Snowball can go a fair distance in lending a more flattering sound to your voice.

Web Camera: You’ll want to opt for a web camera with at least 1080p video quality, captured at 30 frames per second. Logitech is a reliable brand, and their C920s webcam is adequate for most if not all basic video conferencing needs.


#6: Review Your Teleconferencing Software

The type of software you’re using for your teleconferencing can make a big difference in how well you do your work. Here are four widely popular apps you can use for teleconferencing and video calling, with their benefits and drawbacks in brief.

Signal

Benefits:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Feature-rich
  • Functional across all common devices (desktop, tablet, mobile, Apple and Android phones, etc.)
  • Built with encryption and freedom of speech principles in mind: end-to-end encrypted from the outset.
  • Open-source project
  • Completely free

Drawbacks:

  • Video conferencing is limited to one-on-one (i.e. 2 people).
  • People still think Signal is only what you do in your car when you’re politely changing lanes (i.e. not many people know about it.)

WhatsApp

Benefits:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Feature-rich
  • Functional across all common devices (desktop, tablet, mobile, Apple and Android phones, etc.)
  • End-to-end encrypted

Drawbacks:

  • Videoconferencing can be held with a maximum of only 4 people.

Skype

Benefits:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Feature-rich
  • Functional across all common devices (desktop, tablet, mobile, Apple and Android phones, etc.)
  • End-to-end encryption available as of 2018

Drawbacks:

  • The Skype software programming is a little bit bloated, at least on PC computers.

Zoom

Benefits:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Incredibly popular
  • Excellent for large group video conferencing
  • Feature-rich
  • Functional across all common devices (desktop, tablet, mobile, Apple and Android phones, etc.)

Drawbacks:


Conclusion

So there you have it!

The takeaway here is that you don’t need to do anything especially extravagant, but to be mindful of the basics such as lighting, your environment, and consider whether your recording gear could use an update.

In a crisis situation such as this, it’s not imperative that you achieve the recording quality of a multi-million dollar studio. You can always invest in better equipment if it makes sense for your circumstances, but the aim of this article is to show you that you can still get much done under both time and budgetary constraints.

In brief, expending the basic effort needed to create a slightly better setup certainly won’t hurt and can help you exude an appropriate level of professionalism for your needs.

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