We live and work in a world of ever-increasing uncertainty. However, there is one thing that is certain: video conferencing is with us to stay.
Gone are the days when folks could be congratulated for simply figuring out the hardware and software in order to attend a meeting. Now, it's much more about how you present yourself, how professional you look, and what that little window into your world conveys about you.
Sound quality has long been considered more important than video quality in terms of viewer retention and satisfaction. But a study published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society showed that higher video quality actually increased viewers' perception of audio quality.
So let's start with increasing video quality. Your laptop's webcam may be workable, but does it provide the sharp, color-balanced, high-quality image you want your audience to see?
My recommendation is to update your setup with a premium camera, like the spiffy new 4K Dell Ultrasharp Webcam.
Your bandwidth may or may not allow for 4K uploads. But having a camera with an image sensor capable of 4K means the image being fed into Zoom or Teams is the highest quality possible. Those conference apps will then compress the video to meet any bandwidth requirements, but starting with the best quality will yield better results.
The Ultrasharp Webcam has a variety of other features to consider, with the standout being a face-tracking function you can enable if you're using a wider field of view. You may not use this feature for a standard meeting, but if you're doing a class or a demonstration (or talking to family while moving about your space), it may be a win. The Ultrasharp Webcam also has an automatic white balance feature, which should prevent your face from showing up with a greenish or bluish tint.
Can you hear me now?
One surprising aspect of the Dell Ultrasharp Webcam is that it doesn't come with a microphone. Most webcams do, but at the same time, these built-in mics are usually mediocre in terms of quality. I recommend that you add a dedicated, quality mic to your setup anyway.
Imagine you're on a 45-minute, all-hands-on-deck video conference. Now, imagine that the main speaker has a terrible microphone. The sound is a bit distorted, there's a background hum, and it sometimes crackles so much you get distracted. It's painful.
It's worse, of course, if it's your microphone. You want people to listen to what you have to say, not cringe or beg you to go on mute. You don't want people to break your flow and ask you to repeat yourself, either.
My go-to recommendation is the Blue Yeti Nano mic. The Nano is a smaller, less expensive version of the Yeti that's perfect for use when sitting in front of your computer screen in a video meeting. It's not expensive, it's easy to set up and configure, and it has reliably decent sound.
The award for set design goes to…
Now that we've talked about maximizing your video and audio, let's move on to your studio, even if it's a spare bedroom or office. You need to consider how your face is lit, what's in the background of your frame, and what's happening around you.
If you're conferencing at home, you'll need to coach your family or roommates to keep quiet while you're in meetings. Some people even use a smart light or smart bulb that they set to red when they're 'on the air.' It doesn't matter how you do it, but do your best to enlist the aid of your fellow residents or office mates to keep the chatter down.
Next, consider your lighting. If you sit in front of a big monitor, the light of the screen may overwhelm or overexpose your face. If that's the case, sit back a foot or so and use the 4K in the webcam -- along with the webcam software -- to zoom in a bit. That should mitigate the overexposure. If you don't have enough light, consider getting a key light like this one from Elgato. In fact, two (to balance light on either side of your face) may be a good idea.
Finally, think about what's behind you. You don't necessarily have to set up a green screen or a fancy backdrop, but don't make the classic big mistake of having confidential information on the whiteboard behind your head. I have done more than one video interview with folks who had planning information on unannounced products right on camera. Of course, I pointed it out and the situation was remedied, but don't be that person.
More to the point, I recommend you create a pleasing or interesting background behind you, to enhance rather than detract from your viewers' experience. Conferencing apps do provide virtual backgrounds, but they don't always work, and they sometimes swallow up parts of your head, arms, and torso. if you have a fallback of a pleasant space behind you, you can be confident that you'll come across nicely no matter what.