CHOICE membership

Video conferencing tips, traps and bungles - your input needed

We need your help with a fun story about video conferencing tools. After several months of video chat for work and play, we’d love to hear about your:

  • best tips and hacks (both personal and technical, clever and fun)
  • traps to avoid
  • video chat bungles or fails

Please add your experience to the comments below.

5 Likes

A few things I have noticed using Line, WeChat, Skype and Messenger…

  1. Video quality is variable and different each time connection is made. Sometimes quality is very good, other times can be poor…when connected to the same person.
  2. Multichat/group chat has significant limitations for social catch ups. Only one user can chat at one time and if a group member is in a noisy location (children, aircraft overhead, road noise, trains, music etc), often it is the noise which is transmitted instead of the conversation. This can be overcome with mute function…but not always possible. We have found one on ones are more enjoyable than groups (3 or more users) as it is difficult to hold a conversation in group video modes.
  3. Low light all apps seem to struggle with good video, even if the camera itself is okay in low light.
  4. Skype often has video or voice lag making conversations more difficult as one tends to focus on the lag rather than what is said.
  5. One can’t have two devices with the same login for chats…which could be useful where say one is cooking and another is elsewhere in the house. Only way around is to create multiple accounts, one for each device or huddle around the kitchen sink…which is a pain.
11 Likes

Thanks @phb, very useful info.

5 Likes

“wear pants”

9 Likes

Horizontal (landscape framing) is usually preferred.

If it is work make sure the kids and the partner are occupied elsewhere and know to stay clear.

Parking on the chat invite, app dependent, about 5 minutes early is polite and gives newbies some time to assure the camera and microphone and app are working.

Expect slight delays from participant to participant so you are not unintentionally talking over each other.

If you are using the app on a PC (or tablet) an incoming chat can show up on an app enabled phone first with no way to get back to the more substantial device without a bit of kerfuffle.

8 Likes

That depends on where you have placed the camera and in what direction it is pointing.

5 Likes

During the last lockdown when using zoom to meet with my friends, very often there was a problem with background noise interference: a tv left on, children wandering in to ask mum something, mum getting an important phone call, a beautiful cat curiously staring at the camera.

Also, at one time or other some of us would have technical problems in joining the meeting even though procedure was as always.

And, out of sync sound: once we were singing happy birthday to an absent friend and when we got to see the video our leader had labelled it: hilarious. It was indeed the funniest sight and the most out of sync sound!

9 Likes

This is not just a problem for video-conferences. I have performed a few operas with a group that put them on in a church. The church had a lovely organ at the back, and our operas were staged at the front.

It was impossible to use the organ, simply because of the distance between front and back. While the church was definitely not large, this distance was enough that any audience in the middle would hear the organ from the back and then the singing from the front very slightly out of sync. Accordingly the musical director brought in an electronic keyboard and positioned it in the first row.

Of course, this was about the speed of sound; most of the distance a teleconference travels is at the speed of light. Nevertheless, because of the need for it to find its way around cables from one place to another, and the short but real distance between mouth and microphone, it all adds up.

8 Likes

Some organists are adept at managing their instruments. The sounds from the pedals being low and slow versus the short high pitched flutes that move quickly and everything in between at different paces.

They play the pedals a bit ahead of the manuals and in much of the church their skill brings all parts together as one. Complex registrations for the manuals can create their own challenges in some settings. It is one reason organ music sometimes sounds like a blur of whatever depending on one’s listening point.

I could image an organist with a bit of practice with headsets on and microphones up front getting the timing right to sync to the listeners up front. Not for the faint-hearted to master ad hoc.

7 Likes

This was a guy who had worked as repetiteur for Opera Australia - he knew his stuff. The problem was one of physical distance between organ and singers, and it is why you try really hard to keep them as close to one another as possible even when that means having the orchestra between stage and audience (the way opera houses are generally designed).

Sometimes concerts have the orchestra behind the singer, but this is messier because the conductor needs to be seen by both. Normally in this situation the singer will have a display near their feet showing the conductor.

9 Likes
  1. The natural light in my home-office comes from windows behind and beside me, which is not good for video conferencing. I have an array of fluorescent lights above my desk - which is excellent for working but dreadful for my aesthetic when video conferencing. Therefore, I use a big dimmable LED ring light for video conferencing. I also purchased an inexpensive extension power cord with an inline switch so I can easily reach the switch to turn on the ring light for ad hoc video calls. With the light source pointing towards my face, it provides more flattering and more professional lighting.

  2. My employer-provisioned laptop has the web cam and is not the main screen that I use for working so the laptop is set to one side. I use two large external monitors for working. In order to face the web cam when I’m engaged in video calls, I ensure that any content that I’ll be referencing during the call (e.g. the video conferencing software, spreadsheets etc) is positioned on the laptop screen, which means I am facing the camera for the duration of the call. The ring light (bulky as it is) sits to the side of the laptop so the light source faces me. As my home-office chair is a swivel style (which is the norm for office chairs), I can easily swivel to face the web cam when needed, without twisting my body.

  3. I don’t wear my reading glasses when using the ring light to ensure the reflection of the light doesn’t flare in big spooky rings on my glasses (or reveal the fact that I’m using a ring light!) The alternative would be to tilt the glasses down to avoid the reflection but I get around the issue by removing my glasses for video calls.

  4. I have elevated the laptop a little to ensure the web cam is level with my eyes. That ensures I’m not looking down into the camera, which reduces visual distortion and offers a more pleasing aesthetic.

  5. When I’m the speaker, I look at the camera lens in order to give the impression of making eye contact with the other party or parties to the video call.

  6. The laptop is angled to avoid giving other parties a view of clutter in my bookshelf, which improves the aesthetic of my background. The other element that improves that aesthetic is the ring light: the web cam exposes for my illuminated face so the background is underexposed. This de-emphasises the interior elements of my background and emphasises the underexposed view through the window behind me (which has other parties to the call commenting on the lovely view of the gum tree canopy and blue sky through the window).

  7. On the rare occasions that bandwidth is stretched (indicated by poor audio quality), I switch off video to release more bandwidth for audio.

  8. I avoid performing other tasks during meetings - that is, I don’t check emails or look at my mobile phone in the course of a meeting; rather, I remain focused on and engaged with the meeting.

12 Likes

Sounds like you can give us all some tips, @margotk. I am impressed! (I had to search for what a ring light actually is.)

@BrendanMays, it sounds like you should be talking to @margotk.

6 Likes

Great points @margotk.

My suggestions

  • Don’t bob around. Stay the same distance from the camera if possible, so the camera doesn’t go in and out of focus trying to show you.
  • Don’t have a brighter light source behind you than in front. If it is too bright behind you, the camera will show you as a dark blob.
  • Think about your surrounds. It is better to have a clean foreground, and bland background that does not distract viewers (unles that is your intent).
  • Make sure viewers can’t see into anywhere that you don’t want them to, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.
  • Don’t blend into the background colourwise. You might go missing in action.
  • Have what you need on hand so you don’t need to suddenly stand up and leave. People may see more than you wish.
  • Finally, as has been said, limit the size of the group as it is hard for people to contain their exuberance and not all speak over each other.
10 Likes

If asking for opinions / vote tally’s think about ask for affirmative in one group / Negative in a separate group. Advantage of this when recording/reviewing - is comments tend to marry with subject.

  • Formulating meeting / Quorum rules / outline.

  • To reduce lag, if using say “Zoom” you could request that all participants mute Microphone - unless current speaker. ( this helps to reduce background noise triggering noise cancelling microphones and “drowning the speaker out”)

  • Echo effect also comes into play here, person has volume maxxed out and so when “guest” speaking a person gets distracted from subject due to echo (because they can hear their own voice feeding back)

  • If participants choose to check phones for an urgent or emergency reason, turn off webcam out of courtesy to all participants ( no distractions)

Hope these help you.

3 Likes

Most of my work team of ten are still working from home. We overcome the video problems by turning it off and only using audio chat. This also saves a lot of bandwidth, which really helps those who have very poor internet. This includes those who are in the office, which only has a wi-fi connection.

6 Likes

I have used many of these products and I think Zoom is by far the best; a security leak that was a worry in the early days has been fixed. With Zoom you can: easily log on to the meeeting, chat on the side, share screens, see ALL the participants, click on any participant, choose speaker view, etc. The convenor can mute everybody (necessary for a big group like 30+ users) and set up rooms on the side and send people into them. The etiquette is to send the link and passwords by email or message to those invited to the meeting; they just click on the link and off they go. Other conferencing products are harder to use and less functional, notably Microsoft Teams which requires you to install stuff and then you have to defend against Microsoft trying to take over your computer. If anyone is worried about security, bear in mind that giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Apple etc already have all your posts and the data in them, and have been tracking you for advertising for years now.

1 Like

My tip is probably already well known, i.e. to elevate your laptop on a few books or a box for a better picture of your face rather than the camera lens looking up at your nose.

3 Likes

I am the “subject” of an interactive tutorial for third-year medical students, as I have a medical condition that can be demonstrated and discussed (and poked and prodded). The last two tutorials have been Zoom sessions (more talk and less prodding) and the Professor explained sharply to a student that they should turn their video feed on, or not attend. Mr XX has come here to talk to you, and you can see him, so it is a courtesy that you in turn can be seen.

3 Likes

I have had a few medical meetings online, i was using my phone, but wanted the bigger screen. So I opened zoom and got connected - I could see the other person, but they couldn’t see me. Why? Oh, no camera!! What a nitwit.

1 Like