man and women in a video conferenceMan and a women in video conferenceSince the whole world is moving towards lockdown I thought I'd share my experience of managing and hosting video conferences.
Video conferencing can save time, money and bring people together from distant shores. Hours on the road attending face to face meetings can take it's toll and be very inefficient but with video conferencing you can do it all from the comfort of your office/living room chair.
Interestingly only 8% of communication is the words we speak so adding video can really help the process of effective commuication as people observe facial expressions and the mood of the room.
In my previous life I worked for an international organisation that regularly held meetings and live broadcasts of conferences online, mainly using Zoom.
The frustrations can be many if you don't get the technology right. Poor sound quality, poor lighting/video, poor camera angles, broadbrand dropouts to name a few and I'll tackle each of these and more.

Video Conferencing Online Solutions

There are several solutions. A private video conference using Zoom or Youtube would be top of the list.
Zoom is purpose built and handles everything from booking a 'room' and time slot to sharing the event with potential delegates a sinch.
As a delegate you will be sent a link via email. The email includes the time set for the meeting and the link will take you to a screen where you can add your name and enter the conference.
If it's your first time using Zoom it will ask to install a small plugin before automatically taking you to the meeting - an easy step for tecnho-phobes.
Youtube is a little more tricky but it is free wheras Zoom has limitations for the free version.

Zoom's free version allows:

  • Hosting up to 100 participants
  • Unlimited 1 to 1 meetings
  • 40 mins limit on group meetings
  • Unlimited number of meetings
  • Online support

jabra speak 510

40 mins is the big limitation,  and the  cheapest paid option, which gives you meeting lengths of upto 24 hours costs £11.99/month. If you think about the fuel you'd use traveling to a meeting plus the cost of heating and lighting a meeting room, it's still a cost-effective option.

Getting the Audio right

This often gets neglected and can be a huge frustation especially for group meetings where you're typically in a bigger room with poor acoustics and huddling around a laptop isn't practical.
If people can't hear what is being said with clarity they will soon switch off.

For group meetings. you can buy combined telepconference usb microphones + speaker that sit in the middle of the table which help with audio clarity if there’s several people in the room.

This Jabra Speakerphone gets good reviews:

As presenter you would be best to wear headphones. 

plantronics headsetBetter still buy a purpose built USB headset with a built in microphone and one earpiece.
Cheap and cheerful:

If funds will stretch:

Getting the Video Right

Video wise it’s a compromise between using a fixed camera position with it filming everbody at a wide angle (they’d need to sit in a horseshow layout) and not catching their up close facial expressions and having a camera operator move the camera onto the person speaking with it sat on a tripod (this would be the preferred option).

c920 pro hd webcam refreshWithout going to pro level (which is beyond the scope of this blog), web-cam wise I recommend the Logitech HD 1080p 

The Logitech has a standard screw mount for use on a tripod which is a useful addition.

Get it on Amazon here:

The audio isn’t bad from the microphone included in the Logitech for you as the presenter (use a room with plenty of soft furnishings if you can to soak up the sound).

Think about lighting!

If there are windows with blinds then close the blinds if they are behind the people being filmed otherwise they will be in silhouette.
A video light or 2 would really help but maybe beyond budget. If not make best use of natural light.
If using a video light, two LED lights with diffusers and on stands at 45 degrees to the speaker's face would be ideal.
If the camera is working in low light it will struggle to focus (if it has autofocus at all) and the video will be grainy.
I have seen people use builders flood lights. The best solution here is to light the ceiling which will diffuse the light and avoid the washed out look!

Broadband issues

cat5Often dropouts are because of a poor wireless signal rather than router issues. Consequently I recommend connecting your laptop into the router using a cat-5 network cable.
They're cheap enough and will save you some frustrations. If you are nowhere near your router then you can buy cat-5 extenders that send the signal over your mains supply to another room (a worthwhile investment if you work from home regularly).
If you are hosting a group meeting then try and pick a venue where there is really good broadband bandwidth.
If you have intermitant problems with your router then reboot it before you start the meeting!
Also (and this is no joke) avoid 3.30pm onwards if you are working from home. Why? Because all the kids are getting home from school and hammering the broadband in your town. Unless you are on fibre optic cable, whatever your broadband supplier tells you, you will be affected - there's only so much bandwidth to share out from your local exchange!

Test Test Test!

If this is an important meeting and you have dozens of delegates joining in, test your technology before hand. Just set up a dummy meeting and ask a willing delegate to test things at their end.
I would advise doing this the same day but wiith an hour or two before your meeting to iron out any gremlins.

Final thoughts

So in conclusion, a little care with your set up can make all the difference to the expereice for you as presenter and for your delegates without spending a lot of money, but a badly hosted meeting can turn off your delegates and create a bad impression for your business / organisation.

Andy Prosser
March 2020