Video conference calls have gone from a convenient tool to a lifeline for people around the globe. According to a report by App Annie, in just one week in March 2020, business apps (including video conferencing) reached 62 million downloads worldwide—a 90% increase over the 2019 weekly average.
At this point, most of us have surpassed the phase of fumbling to find the mute button and figuring out when not to speak over someone—but there’s still room for improvement. Whether you use Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, Webex, or something else, here are some best practices for video conference calls that will make your next meeting a breeze.
1. Designate a meeting leader beforehand.
Let’s face it: Video calls can be confusing and awkward. The more participants, the trickier it is to know when it’s your turn to talk. Rather than making it a free-for-all, designate a meeting leader who can call on people or even mute everyone and selectively unmute them when it’s their turn to take the floor.
Some video conferencing apps even have a “raise your hand” feature. But if yours doesn’t, participants can simply send a chat message or raise their actual hand to indicate that they’d like to speak.
Whichever method you choose, your meeting leader can keep things from getting chaotic; think of them as a crossing guard who manages the flow of traffic, letting you know when it’s your turn to go.
2. Don’t wait until the last minute to review the meeting details.
Perhaps this sounds familiar: There are 30 seconds until the call starts and you’re digging for the link in your inbox, or trying to figure out where to enter the password, or discovering that you have to install software before you can launch the meeting.
Avoid that mess by reviewing how to join the meeting at least a couple of hours in advance. That way, if you can’t remember where to find the link or you’re having issues with installation, you’ll have plenty of time to troubleshoot.
3. Use a headset or earbuds with a built-in microphone.
Any sort of headset or earbud microphone will almost always sound better than using your laptop’s onboard mic. I tested this out recently on a Skype call with a friend; I used the earbuds that came with my iPhone, while she used a headset that came with her language learning software. We were astounded at how much clearer our voices sounded just by using these inexpensive microphones.
4. Eliminate as many noise sources as possible.
Remember that there are many more noises on a video conference call than in an in-person meeting because remote participants are joining from different places—and each has their own microphone. This can make it difficult to hear whoever’s speaking. To combat this, eliminate as many noise sources as possible, whether that’s a loud fan by your computer, the air conditioner on full blast, or a TV playing in the background.
Also, think about the exterior of your home. For example, if you know that the landscaping crew comes every Tuesday morning, avoid holding conference calls during that time.
5. Filter out the rest with a noise-cancelling app.
Despite your best efforts, you can’t always rid your environment of every distracting noise. Babies will cry, dogs will bark, and outside traffic will honk. That’s why there’s Krisp. Krisp cancels out any noise coming from your microphone and the other participants’ microphones.
Plus, it supports more than 800 apps, including Zoom, Meet, and Teams. At the click of a button, Krisp quietly works its magic in the background, making your meetings as noise-free as possible.
6. Dress appropriately—and assume everyone can see you.
By now, you’ve probably seen one of those viral quarantine videos where a hapless meeting participant gets caught with their pants down (or not on at all). There was the time ABC reporter Will Reeve did a live shot from his home without pants on, and the time a woman took her laptop to the bathroom during a video call, without realizing her camera was on and her colleagues could see her.
The moral of these stories is this: Yes, we’re all getting a little lax with our outfits and behaviors as we work from home, but even if you think you’ve framed your shot just right or turned off your camera—play it safe, and don’t do anything during a call that you wouldn’t want your colleagues to see.
7. Choose your background wisely.
Don’t fret over creating an elaborate background. Just make sure there’s nothing distracting back there. If something behind you is moving—for example, people walking by or your cute cat playing—it will draw viewers’ attention away from the meeting. Your safest bet for a static background is to have a wall directly behind you.
8. Make the most of lighting and camera angle.
You don’t need a fancy camera and a studio to look presentable in video conference calls. You just need to learn the magic of lighting and camera angles.
How to make the most of lighting:
- Avoid backlighting (where the light source comes from behind you), as this creates a silhouette effect and will make it difficult for viewers to see your face.
- Lighting from beneath you is almost always unflattering because it creates strange shadows on your face.
- The ideal place to put a light source is in front of you, so setting a lamp somewhere behind your laptop should be fine. Even better, if you can position yourself so that you’re facing a window, or a window is just to your left or right, the natural light looks great.
- And if you want to go glam, you can invest in a ring light—made popular by YouTubers—that casts even lighting on your face and makes your eyes look luminous.
How to create the best camera angles:
- A camera angle below your face (which tends to happen when you’re on a laptop) is unflattering. Avoid this, if possible.
- If you position your camera straight on, or even slightly above you, the angle is more pleasing. You can achieve this by setting your laptop on a stack of books.
- If you’re using an external camera, try to place it as close to your computer screen as possible. You want to seem as though you’re making eye contact with your colleagues. Often, what happens is a user will place an external camera so far away from the screen that it appears as though they’re distracted and not looking at the other participants.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to obsess about how you look on a video call. The key here is to make sure that your colleagues can clearly see your face and eyes so that it feels like you’re in the room together even when you’re not.
9. Test everything ahead of time.
The worst time to figure out how to use your equipment is during the video call. Take time beforehand to familiarize yourself with it and ensure it all works. This includes your:
And if you’ll be doing a screenshare, do a dry run of it. Make sure you know how to start sharing your screen and how to stop. If you have a video to present, make sure it plays properly beforehand.
Even if you won’t be sharing your screen, it still helps to acquaint yourself with the video conferencing app before the meeting begins. The essential functions to know include how to:
- Add contacts.
- Join a meeting.
- Start a meeting.
- Leave a meeting.
- Turn your camera on and off.
- Mute and unmute yourself.
- Send and read chat messages.
10. Close unnecessary apps and tabs.
If you’re anything like me and work with 25 tabs open at one time, I’ve got bad news for you: It’s going to slow down your video calls. Do yourself and your colleagues a favor and close out of any unnecessary tabs and apps before you hop on the call.
11. Opt for the desktop client instead of the web client.
If your secure video conferencing software has a desktop app, it’s usually better to use that versus launching the meeting from your browser. Yes, downloading software is an extra step, but it’s worth it. The desktop apps are usually more robust; they have features the browser versions don’t.
For example, if you use the Zoom web client, you won’t be able to see participants in gallery view or add a virtual background like you would be able to with the desktop client.
12. Give your housemates a heads up.
If you live with others, make sure they know when you will be in a video meeting. That way, you’ll avoid the embarrassment of having them walk behind you in their PJs or shout something at you mid-meeting.
13. Mute yourself when you’re not speaking.
Mute yourself when you’re not talking, but don’t forget to unmute yourself when it’s your turn to speak! This becomes less cumbersome when you learn the keyboard shortcuts. For your convenience, here are the keyboard shortcuts for muting some popular video conferencing apps:
- Windows: Ctl+M
- Mac: Command+Shift+M
- Windows: Alt+A
- Mac: Command+Shift+A
- Alternatively, you can mute yourself and press the spacebar any time you want to talk (which temporarily unmutes you).
- Google Meet
- Windows: Ctrl+D
- Mac: Command+D
- Microsoft Teams
- Windows: Ctrl+Shift+M
- Mac: Command+Shift+M
- Windows: Ctrl+M
- Mac: Command+Shift+M
If you’re having a video chat with just one other person, muting isn’t a big deal. But if it’s with, say, 30 other people, you’re going to want to mute everyone on the call and have the meeting leader unmute individuals when it’s their turn to speak.
14. Know how to troubleshoot connectivity issues.
By far, one of the most common problems you’ll have on a video call is a connectivity issue, usually showing up as frozen video or delayed audio. If that happens, here are a few tips to troubleshoot:
- Turn off your camera.
- Try a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi.
- Turn off HD video. In Zoom, this is done by going to Home > Settings > Video and then unchecking “Enable HD.”
- Close anything that may be taking up bandwidth.
- Plug your laptop or mobile device into its charger. If your device’s battery is dying, it could affect your call’s video and audio quality.
- Disable your VPN if you’re using one. VPNs notoriously slow down the connection.
- Try tethering to your mobile hotspot. Sometimes the home Wi-Fi or public Wi-Fi that you’re using is too slow to support your video conference call needs. This might happen if others are sharing that Wi-Fi connection. So try tethering to your mobile hotspot if you have one.
- Exit the meeting and rejoin.
- Restart your computer.
15. Respect the end time.
When you’re working remotely, video conference calls can drag on unnecessarily because, unlike office meetings, it may seem like everyone has all the time in the world. After all, they’re hanging out at home, right? Wrong. Respect people’s time. Have an agreed-upon meeting length, and if you reach that point but still have more to discuss, announce that anyone who needs to go can sign off. Then, if anyone remains, ask them if they are available to stay longer or if you should schedule another meeting.
Also, keep in mind that some apps have meeting length limitations. For instance, Zoom’s free version automatically ends meetings at 40 minutes, and a Skype group video call will convert to an audio call once it reaches the four-hour mark.
Use These Best Practices for Video Conference Calls at Your Next Virtual Meeting
Video calls can be exhausting, but they’re part of our new normal. They’ve become an essential slice of daily life, whether you’re catching up with your grandparents or presenting a report to your coworkers. But without some tips and preparation, you’re bound to make blunders. Use these best practices for video conference calls, and you can ensure your next one goes off without a hitch.