As a global firm that provides expertise in the space of acoustics, technology and theatre to clients all over the world, many of which are Fortune 500 corporations, we’ve watched with interest at the various ‘video conferencing from home’ sessions. Some have been hilarious, some cringingly bad, but most barely pass the litmus test.
It is amusing when high-powered execs get suited and booted for their video call, only for elements they don’t consider that influence the professional image they are trying to portray. People at other end of the call see and hear the deficiencies in your room. You won’t notice them because you’re familiar with them and mentally shut them out.
Remember, people focus on what they can see and hear, and especially what’s unusual or novel. Meeting rooms are boring, but your home isn’t, and people will and do look around, which means they’re not focussing on you.
So, here’s some video conferencing from home tips for you to avoid presenting as mediocre and how the external image of yourself, both video and audio reflects the one you see in the mirror before you jump on a call.
The noises around your house are very familiar to you as you live with them every day. Whether it’s the birds or traffic outside, next door’s lawnmower, a snoozing dog, or a squeaky door hinge – we all have them – that’s just what home is about. But videoconferencing from home doesn’t have to be so. You’re used to these sounds, and they (largely) don’t bother you because you block them out. Your headphones isolate you from the various noises around your house, but your microphone is very good at picking them up, and they are distracting. You won’t know they are being picked up. Try to bear this in mind and think ahead. Close the windows and doors, try and pick a room that’s away from the house. The acoustic properties of domestic walls and doors aren’t as high as they are in an office. Silly things that you take for granted are usually the most annoying to people at the other end. They don’t know what they are, and they can’t see the source of the noise. Whether it’s ticking clocks, the coffee machine in the kitchen, clicking pens, mouse clicks and keyboard keys, children’s toys, animals – the list goes on.
A quiet room is important, but not one that’s empty. These rooms sound hollow and can play havoc with the echo cancelling software in your PC. Remember, it’s always the far end that suffers. If you have no choice, try and introduce some soft furnishings, especially if you have tiled floors. Drawing the curtains, even a few cushions leaning against the wall or behind your screen, will help take the edge off. Put a rolled-up towel against the gap at the bottom of the door. This will help stop those sounds coming through from the house. The difference is noticeable.
If you don’t have a tabletop microphone, we encourage you to invest in one. Tabletop mics are generally better than most camera mics. However, at the top end of the market, camera mics are also pretty good.
If you’re using a headset, remember that something as simple as breathing can be really noisy! Not to say don’t breathe, but bear in mind that exhaling through your nose causes the air to rush past the microphone making a really loud noise. Solution – move mic to the side. Headset mics don’t need to be close to work well. Most of them are designed for the mic to be off to one side. Just make sure it’s not touching anything, otherwise that noise will dominate. The mics built into ear buds aren’t great – invest in a decent headset or a USB tabletop mic/speaker.
Finally, remember etiquette and turn your mic off if you’re not using it. There’s an automated system in your PC that increases the volume of your mic if you’re not speaking. This increases levels of background noise. One microphone in a conference call doing that is probably manageable, but it gets very disturbing when all mics are on.
Compared with artificial light, daylight is blue. Mixing different light in a room will create blue and orange parts of the room to the camera. Draw the curtains or blinds to help reduce the amount of light on a bright day, even partially, and don’t forget light reflects off the buildings outside your window into your room. It doesn’t need to be direct sunlight.
Your camera is pretty smart and tries to average different light colour temperatures, but if you’re also moving around, and go from the blue side of your room to the orange side, the camera will constantly adjust the colour.
Try to avoid having a window behind you. Lots of daylight plays havoc with cameras, and you will end up an under-exposed, sitting silhouette. Your videoconferencing friends will have a lovely, sharp, and well-exposed view outside your window. They won’t be focussed on you.
Lights and Lighting
Assuming you’ve managed to conquer the windows, you’ll be down to artificial light to ensure you can be seen at the other end. Moody lighting is great for Hollywood, but not so for business.
Light that is too low will provide grainy pictures. Too much light won’t be comfortable for you (but will deliver great pictures). So, what’s enough? Ceiling or wall lights are usually fine, but the best form of light is a strong light reflected off the ceiling or the wall. It sends out nice and diffused light and provides good, even illumination. Turn on the main light and turn your desk light around so it’s bouncing off the wall in front of you. Front light is much better than back light, but you should have both.
Whatever happens, avoid having lights behind you for the same reason as the window. It’s not always possible to change your lighting, so if you can move yourself around. Light from in front of you is much better (and more forgiving) than direct lighting from above. The bare minimum you can do is avoid having a light in shot. This will ensure you won’t have a lampshade as a hat.
Choose your background
There are a number of features that allow you to put a different background up. Yes, it’s fun and entertaining, but it’s also quite gimmicky and after a while becomes distracting. The software that handles it is clever but not infallible. We’ve seen people’s glasses and coffee cups come and go. Sometimes amusing, but not the image you want to give when you’re trying to make a serious point.
The best background is a neutral one. Limited features (books, wall picture etc) nothing much for people to see – basically something that’s frankly a bit boring. Not everyone can do this, or even wants to. If you’re committed to a part of the house that you can’t change easily, be aware of what the camera is seeing. Although photos are usually OK, I imagine the washing up probably isn’t! I’ve got a company banner up behind my desk at the moment.
Be wary of backgrounds that are too busy. Your videoconferencing form home system and internet line take up valuable processing power trying to send a nice image of your room. Each time you move around, it re-renders the image. The more that’s in the background, the more your system uses and the slower it is.