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Videoconferencing do's and don'ts (with video!)

Mary K. Pratt | June 4, 2015
Here are four steps to improve your videoconferencing skills.

The pressure on participants might be less than that on presenters, but as a result, remote invitees are often guilty of not testing or setting up their systems until the videoconference is about to begin. Unless you're in a corporate telepresence room with a pro running the equipment, make sure you've installed software, downloaded or disabled plug-ins, figured out your audio (and mute) options, and tested any chat features before the meeting start time.

Tip No. 2: Visuals matter — audio too!

If you're located anywhere other than at a telepresence site, give careful thought to your surroundings and your appearance on camera — that goes for both presenters and participants, video veterans say.

To begin, your location should be free of clutter and busy backgrounds, including exterior windows that could distract viewers as people come and go behind you — or worse. Scott McCool, group vice president of IT and CIO at Polycom, a unified collaboration firm, remembers one conference call with a colleague whose wife was changing their baby's diaper in the background. "Thankfully it was an informal meeting and we just ignored it," McCool says — but imagine if it was a high-stakes business presentation.

McCool says he keeps a sign with his company's logo behind his desk so whether he's using a desktop teleconferencing feature or a higher-end room-based system, he's got a professional setting easily at hand.

Your spot should have enough lighting so others can see your face without shadows or glare. Cameras and audio should be positioned to stay with you even if you move — something that's admittedly easier to achieve with high-end equipment, less so with Web- or client-based conferencing software systems.

As a wide area network services coordinator, Roy Hoover is responsible for videoconferencing equipment at his organization, Pennsylvania's Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 school district. Hoover uses preset functions on his video cameras so it's easy to zoom in on speakers. He encourages the use of wireless microphones for better audio, and prearranges seating to ensure participants' visibility. He also posts professional printed signs on podiums and behind speakers so everyone knows who the participants are.

If you're working with a system with a fixed camera and a narrow range of focus (as with the built-in camera on a laptop), be mindful not to move out of range as you speak. The golden rule is that all participants should be able to see and be seen, at least when they're speaking.

And remember that not every camera angle is as advantageous as the next. McCool has seen salespeople position phones in car cup holders as they drive and office workers using desktop cameras angled up at their faces. "You're seeing their face from the bottom up. That's certainly not very, ah, pleasant," he says. Avoid unflattering angles by making sure you're looking into the camera at eye-level, as if you were meeting someone face to face — even if it means raising up your laptop for the duration of the video call.

 

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