In a previous article, we gave an introduction and some tips on how to effectively use videoconferencing in your law firm. In today’s article, we focus on improving the quality of sound and video in your video meetings. Now, quality can be a subjective thing. Therefore, when assessing the quality of your video meetings, it may be more practical to keep your actual needs in mind. You will need more professional equipment, e.g., if you organize webinars that you charge for, than when you only have meetings to catch up and coordinate with co-workers.
Let us start with some general considerations with regard to your infrastructure. Apart from decent equipment, the environment from where you are making your video calls plays an important role. You want to reduce all sources of interference to a minimum. These interferences can include light sources which can be too bright, too dark, or placed in wrong positions. They can include sounds from your environment: equipment making noise, phones ringing, street noises, people talking, etc. You want a quiet location, with adequate lighting, and as little sound interference as possible. You may even consider installing a soundproof pod, if necessary. In this context, it should also be clear that making video calls while travelling is never a good idea.
You also want a fast and stable internet connection. As a rule, for a laptop or PC, you are better off with Ethernet network cables at the office than with wi-fi, as wi-fi is far more susceptible to interference. Even if you mainly use wi-fi, it makes sense to at least have one dedicated video conferencing machine that has a physical cable connection to the router.
In our previous article, we pointed out that the users’ sound experience is more important than their video experience while videoconferencing. So, how you can improve the sound of your meeting? The first thing to do is to calibrate the sound of your microphone. You may have to do this at the level of the operating system and/or of the video software that you are using. In the operating system, you typically will find this in the device manager. In the video software, you will find it in the settings. If you use your device in different locations (e.g., a laptop or smart phone that you use both at home and at the office), you may consider recalibrating each time you are in a different location. Even with stationary devices like PCs, it is a good practice to recalibrate on a regular basis.
We already mentioned reducing sound interference. This also applies to your sound equipment itself, where you want to avoid having an echo or other interferences like feedback from your loudspeakers. Typically, using a headset avoids both of these. These days, most laptops and smart phones with built in microphones also are calibrated to avoid echo and feedback.
For optimal sound quality, you need to find the ideal distance between your mouth and the microphone. Depending on the microphone you are using, this usually is between 10 and 30 cm. Do some tests to find the optimal distance. For many external microphones, it is around 15 cm.
Choose the right equipment for your needs. This applies to both microphones and loudspeakers. The microphones that are built-in into smart phones and laptops often offer decent quality but using a headset usually will already offer better quality. The loudspeakers of mobile devices typically are of lower quality, so, again a headset or ear buds or external loudspeakers will be a better option. If you are using a desktop PC, you will need an external microphone and external loudspeakers.
If you are organizing webinars and video blogs, you will need more professional microphones. These can go from simple USB microphones, to wired lavalier microphones (lavalier microphones are clip-on microphones), to wireless lavalier microphones, or even more professional microphones. As the purpose is to record your voice, you would prefer one-directional microphones as they do a better job at keeping out unwanted sounds from the environment. You also would want to go for a condenser microphone, which mainly focuses on the ranges of the human voice.
If there is sound interference from your environment, you can use noise-reducing applications that typically can be used as plug-ins for your video conferencing or recording software.
Finally, if you are in a video conference, it is a good practice to mute your microphone when you are not speaking. And remember to switch it back on when you do speak.
Moving on to improving your video quality. Most cameras self-calibrate when they are being used, so there is no need to calibrate your camera. If you are using a laptop or PC and have never calibrated the colours on your monitor, you may want to do that. It typically is something you only should do once.
Probably the most important aspect of video is lighting. In theory, natural light is best, but may often not be sufficient. There are many solutions with wide ranging price differences. Selfie rings, also called ring lights, are a good start, and will do for most purposes. For more professional setups, use 3-point lighting, with optional accent lighting on top of that for additional quality.
Your viewers will look at you and at what is behind you. Make sure you have your camera at eye height and in an appropriate angle. Do not sit too close or too far from the camera. Be aware of what is behind you. Get rid of distractions. Most videoconferencing software allows you to use a wallpaper or virtual background. It is a good practice to choose background that are neutral and not distracting.
When it comes to the equipment to use, you have plenty of choices. Most laptops and smart phones come with decent – and some even excellent – cameras. If those do not deliver sufficient quality, or if you are using a desktop PC, you will need an alternative. You could use a webcam. Often, if you have a digital camera or video camera, those may already offer better quality than a webcam. Several digital cameras and video cameras also allow to plug in an external microphone. Even more professional setups would involve an interchangeable lens camera and a fast lens.
Keep in mind, though, that high resolution video requires a fast, steady, and reliable Internet connection. It is a good practice to close down any other applications with access to the Internet that you will not be needing during your videoconference.
Also keep in mind, that even when your microphone is muted and/or you are not speaking, you are on screen and people can see you.
Finally, some additional considerations and best practices:
- Keep it brief.
- Do not use a videoconference if a telephone call would suffice.
- Consider asynchronous meetings if you are working together with people in different time zones. (Meaning, it is better to have two meeting with fewer attendees at times that are convenient for them, than to have one meeting for everyone at a time that inconveniences part of your attendees).
- If you are doing an online presentation, use engaging visuals.
Once again, happy videoconferencing.