Saturday, March 28, 2020
I love working with folks virtually. It's easy for us to focus on documents or presentations. It's easy to give things attention when they deserve it. It's also easy to keep meetings and presentations more concise. So whenever folks say they're open to a virtual meeting or presentation, I take them up on it. Who wants to fly across the country to give an hour talk when you can give the same talk in your PJ's?
In this new world where we are all lawyering from home, I thought I'd share some simple tips I've learned over the years.
Capturing audio for your audience.
First, figure out how you'll capture your voice. You'll often have more success with an external microphone rather than the built-in ones (for most computers). The built-in ones just aren't designed to pick up quality audio. Especially as you get into your presentation and move around some.
Big headsets often have the best quality, but I find that this can be awkward when presenting because it creates a barrier between you and your listeners. On the other hand, if you have headphones with a mic, like these, they often work just fine and are less obtrusive. The question then becomes whether your laptop has a jack that accepts this input.
If you want to invest in something more powerful that will pick up everything, I use this after lots of testing. This is bulky and overkill for general chats. Probably more than you want to know, but if you want a powerful mic, you may want one that says it has "Cardioid" mode. Without getting into specifics, this just means the mic is designed to pick up one person in front of it.
How you capture video.
Next, make sure your audience has no problem seeing your beautiful face. Many laptops and tablets these days have decent cameras. If you'd like to use your built-in camera, I suggest testing your videoconferencing out with someone else to make sure the quality is where you want it. You can do this pretty easily by setting up a videoconference on your computer and joining it with your smartphone or another device. Or asking someone else to test it (feel free to reach out to me!).
If you don't have a good built-in camera you are happy with, this is an easy fix. Like your external mic, external webcams are cheap and easy to use. Here are a couple good ones you can get on Amazon in just a day or two:
Camera 2 (this one has a nice microphone built in, but it's more spendy).
One other option is to use your smartphone as a webcam.
This is surprisingly easy, and given the quality of most smartphones, using your smartphone as a webcam can give you great quality.
One of the easiest apps out there to do this is iVCam. It's cheap and setting it up takes only two simple steps. You need to download the app on your computer here. Just install the file and it will take over from there.
Then download the iVCam app on the Apple or Android store. Just search for iVCam on the App Store.
Finally, make sure that both your computer and smartphone are on the same WiFi.
Once both of the apps are installed and both are on the same WiFi, open the app on your smartphone. It should auto-detect your smartphone as a webcam. Now, just select your new "external" webcam, which should be called something like "iVCam" and you're ready to go!
What your audience sees and hears.
Many folks new to virtual meetings forget to consider what you and your surroundings will look like to viewers on the other end. So consider a few tips.
What's in your background and in view of the camera?
Consider positioning your camera so that you have a plain wall or other solid background. Or use a virtual background, if you're conference software has it.
Adjusting the camera's field of view.
Many cameras and software let you zoom the camera in or crop out your surroundings. This can help keep the background less distracting. At the least, you can re-position any external camera (part of why external ones are helpful) to cut out the background and focus on you.
Some folks struggle with following both your presentation and your face.
Most software, like Zoom and Webex, let's you turn off your video altogether and focus on a PowerPoint or other screen. One strategy is to have some fact to face presenting, then transition to the PowerPoint or screen share.
Do I need to wear pants?
In theory, your audience will probably only see the top half of your torso. But what if you need to run to the bathroom and forget? Don't be that person.
Any microphone that picks up your voice well is going to pick up background sounds just as well. If there is recurring noise, it can distract your audience. Things like fans can create \real issues for listeners. This is why it's key to test out your setup at least once while you are in your office environment. If you know you are likely to have lots of background noise, consider using a headset microphone which picks up less.
Feedback on your end.
If you have your microphone near your speakers, when audience members talk, it may create nasty feedback and echos. So keep your speakers away from your mic, if possible. Again: test your setup thoroughly to see if your setup is creating issues like this.
Consider configuring where you want the sound to come from on your end.
If you're using a headset, make sure to select the audio output in your conferencing software to go to your headset, not your computer. Loud sounds from your computer can create echos and feedback.
Feedback on your audience's end.
If your audience's own microphones are on and un-muted, they may create distracting sounds or feedback for the whole group. You can mute participants in any good video conferencing software, like Zoom or Webex. But that isn't going to help when you open up the meeting for discussion. So it can help to ask members ahead of time to only un-mute to ask questions, then to re-mute. And also ask them to be sure they try to minimize background sounds, too.
Make sure you have adequate light in your space, but that no lights are pointed directly at your camera. Again, testing once will make sure your space looks inviting to your audience.
Getting your digital workspace set up.
The transition to virtual working comes with a lot of challenges. One of those is juggling more logins, websites, software, and documents.
It can help immensely to organize your desktop and online workspaces a bit extra right now.
For example: When meeting with others, you can't just pull out a document or book off your shelf. You will need to have a digital copy that you can screen share, or at least point them to.
So think ahead to all of the non-digital resources you regularly use when working with others. Then make sure you have them at your fingertips in a virtual environment.
Getting fancy: Integrating a tablet or other devices
There are a lot of other neat things you can do to set up a virtual presentation space at home or in the office.
For example, using a tablet with Zoom allows you to write on your tablet like a whiteboard, and your audience can see your writing in real-time.
Your physical comfort matters, too.
You will probably be sitting your chair even more during this transition. So it can help to schedule breaks during your meetings so that you and your audience can get up and move around. Making sure you have a comfy chair also helps.