Best practice for online video meetings

Author: Malcolm Finnie School Support Lead (Lens Based and Digital Learning)  

 

Goal:

The goal of this recipe is to enable participants to communicate clearly in a meeting and to remove any ambiguity or doubt, putting all parties involved at ease. No one should feel uncomfortable or offended in a workplace meeting or tutorial. 

Outline:

The recipe will cover optimising the way you present yourself to others through simple non-technical steps. It will not cover the technical details of setting up a web cam for video conferencing. 

Ingredients:

  • A room that can be closed off from the rest of your home/workplace. 
  • A computer/phone/tablet equipped with webcam and microphone. 
  • Videoconferencing software 
  • Headphones/microphone (optional) 
  • Added lighting (optional) 

Preparation:

Before you begin, consider how the other participants present themselves the next time you are in a meeting. Is there anything that you find distracting or out of place, do you find it hard to see the presenter or hear what they are saying? Do you feel uncomfortable in any way? All of these things will cause poor communication or worse. The time to do this will vary depending on how many meetings you normally attend. 

Delivery:

​1. Camera height and position

The camera should not be too high, too low or too close to your face. When the camera is higher than eye level, it gives the impression that others are looking down on you. When the viewpoint is too low, it can be perceived that you are looking down your nose at them. This position also gives a very unflattering view of your face. When combined with being too close, it makes your nose look too big and the rest of your face too small. 
The best position for the camera is at eye level and at least 50cm away from your face
 

2. Background

Think carefully about what can be seen behind you. Most webcams have a wide angle of view, therefore taking in a larger background than would be typical for a broadcast camera with a telephoto lens. Try to position yourself in the room where there will be as little clutter in the background as possible. Many people opt for a painting or a bookshelf, or perhaps pointing the camera towards the corner of a room as this gives a sense of depth. If you have a bookshelf, be aware of what is on it. Some book titles may cause offence, do you want everyone to see all your family photos, especially of young children? Maybe a vase of flowers or a plant would be better. 

3. Lighting 

Web cams have auto exposure and when there is a window behind you, the camera will set the exposure for the bright window and put you into silhouette. The most even lighting will occur if you can position yourself so that the main light is coming from behind the camera and facing you. If this is not possible, try positioning an extra light behind the camera to even the illumination. A soft diffuse light is preferable to a spotlight, which will result in bright spots on your face. Try to use daylight balanced lamps if possible, to avoid a yellow tint to your face. 

4. Composition

Next, consider the composition of your image on screen. There is nothing worse than a comedy lampshade, growing out of your head. Look at the image on screen (which is mirrored for you only, to put you at ease) and try to position yourself and or the camera, to give a wellbalanced composition between you and the background. Unlike portraiture, it is probably best to get your face relatively near the centre of the image, remember the image is often cropped in multi person meetings. 

5. Camera stability

Try to position the camera/laptop on a solid/steady surface. When someone has their laptop on a cushion or their knee, or is swinging on a chair, it can make the viewer feel seasick. 

6. Microphone and speakers

Most webcams have builtin mics, it is tempting to lean forward to the camera in order that others can hear you better. This results in an unflattering view of your face as discussed earlier. It is far better to use a set of headphones that have a builtin mic, that way you can move around freely and not loose sound quality (not too much of course). It can be very distracting for others if they can hear their own voices coming out of your speakers, especially with a short delay, as often happens. Headphones will also stop this happening. Wired or Bluetooth work equally as well, just remember to charge up your headphones/mic as they don’t always last all day. 


If you are using speakers, try to remember to mute them and your mic when listening to others. Try to keep the background noise at your location as reduced as possible, although this can be very tough for people with other family members at home, so equally, show patience with others in difficult situations.
 

7. Inappropriate behaviour

You wouldn’t go to a face to face meeting in your pyjamas or still eating your breakfast, so think carefully about how you are presenting yourself. Think about whether you need to show your bedroom in the background, or if that is the only space you have, at least position the camera not to show the bed. Remember to stay professional even when you are not talking, the camera/mic can often still be on and you don’t want to be seen yawning, swearing or pulling a face. 

Finally, try to look at the camera occasionally, don’t talk too fast and don’t forget to breathe! 

Follow-up:

Don’t wait until you are in a meeting to start adjusting your set-up, especially while others are talking, this can give the impression you are not paying attention. Create a meeting with only yourself in attendance and spend a few moments to get the perfect set-up. It is worth repeating this process every few weeks as cameras can get knocked out of position and settings can change. 

Taking it further:

If you are in a situation where you are unable to control the background as you would like, try turning on background effects. This setting will cut your head and shoulders out and place you on a pre-determined background image or simply blur the existing background. This can be very effective, but always test the settings in advance. Some parts of you can be cut out accidentally, especially if you have longer, flowing hair, or if what you are wearing is very close, colour-wise to the background. Be aware of perspective, make sure your camera angle and the original photo angle match. It can look vey distracting if your camera is looking down at you, but the original shot was taken looking up at a room. 


If you want to go a step further, look into using greenscreen effects, but you will need extra software such as OBS or CamTwist. These will be covered in other Recipes.
 

It is possible to connect more than one camera in most video conference software. Simply plug in another USB equipped camera and switch between the multi cameras in settings. This can be useful if you are trying to demonstrate a separate piece of kit. 

Examples and case studies:

https://www.gend.co/blog/best-practice-tips-for-using-zoom 

https://hbr.org/2020/03/what-it-takes-to-run-a-great-virtual-meeting 

https://www.cnet.com/how-to/ultimate-webcam-tips-how-to-look-sound-great-online/ 

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