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WEB CONFERENCE TIPS #4

So many parts are needed (yet sometimes overlooked) when holding online meetings at home. We take a look at another webconferencing tip for effective communication. 

 

Tip #4: Use a wired internet connection!

 

You join an online meeting, and there are several other attendees on the call. One of the callers’ camera (not you, of course) keeps disappearing, and their microphone cuts in and out. “It was working yesterday” is a common response, while the rest of the attendees, with teeth gritting and fists clenched, try to tolerate the experience. Despite having a fast fiber connection promising 100+Mbps (megabits per second) speeds, that caller later reveals that their laptop is connected to the home wifi.

 

This little wire can make all the difference!

 

First of all, let’s find out what bandwidth is required by webconferencing services. Per their respective websites, here are the bandwidth requirements directed by some popular service providers for a laptop/desktop computer:

 

Zoom

Cisco Webex

Microsoft Teams

1-to-1 calling (audio only)

60-80kbps

60-150kbps

30kbps

1-to-1 video calling

(ranges depend on quality of video)

600kbps – 1.8Mbps

600kbps – 1.3Mbps

500kbps – 1.5Mbps

Group video calling (ranges depend on quality of video)

800kbps – 3.0Mbps

1.5Mbps – 4Mbps

1Mbps – 2Mbps

Note that these are download and upload speeds!

 

One of the key takeaways from the above table is that group video calling, which is what most WFH professionals use, requires at least 1Mbps download and upload speeds in order to function properly. It takes data to capture each and every attendee in real time, whether you want to see them or not!

 

The bandwidth requirement rises even higher when sharing content, like a powerpoint slide or video. Using two screens in your setup also adds to the load, as the conferencing service is trying to transmit as much data as possible to provide clear images to both screens.

 

Now let’s look at the data rate coming into your laptop. A simple test will reveal how fast your internet speed is, regardless of whether you are using a wired or wireless connection (use speedtest.net or search “internet speed test”). More often than not, the wired speed is much higher than the wireless speed for a variety of reasons. Keep in mind that this is typically the maximum available service to your home; it does NOT tell you how much of that service is already being used by other devices!

 

Another key factor not shown in these internet speed tests is the ability to provide continuous service. Webconferencing services depend on a steady stream of data to properly receive and transmit audiovisual signals. If a dropout occurs, glitches in sound and/or video may occur, and you may even be dropped from the call.

 

This is why a wired connection is recommended – depending on where you are in relation to the wifi transmitter, and even the quality of the wifi signal, dropouts can occur with regularity on a wireless connection. Unlike video-on-demand services (like Netflix and Youtube) that can buffer data before showing your desired video, webconferencing occurs in realtime with very little delay. Any interruption can be catastrophic, or at the very least, can cause your fellow attendees to hurt their teeth and hands.

 

Stay tuned for more tips!

 

 

WEB CONFERENCE TIPS #3

Working-from-home continues to be a reality. We continue our series of webconferencing tips for effective communication. 

 

Tip #3: Use a second monitor!

 

Many virtual meetings include sharing some sort of content with our fellow attendees. This could be a presentation, an app, or simply wanting to look at the same screen online. Using a second monitor is a tremendous help as it allows us to see the shared content on one screen while still being able to look at the attendees.

 

Why is this important? If you recall from our second tip, presenters often use visual cues from their audience to help drive their presentation. It’s hard to do that if your single 15” laptop screen is sharing space with your presentation window, your participant window, and any other applications you may have open at the same time.

 

Positioning the second monitor might be a challenge. The most common location for the monitor may be on the left or right side of the laptop, but it doesn’t have to be! My personal setup includes a monitor above my laptop, because I feel it is easier to move my head up and down rather than left and right. Furthermore, in Windows, I can change the display settings to accurately mimic the position of my displays. 

 

Don’t forget to “extend your display”!

 

Most of the popular webconferencing services support dual screens, so they can make full use of the available screen area to help you get the best experience possible!

 

An interesting question might be: since my camera is on my laptop screen, which window (presentation or participants) should be on which screen? There are varying opinions, here are mine:

– Presenters should have the participants on the laptop screen (with the camera) and the presentation on the second screen.

– Attendees should have the presentation on the laptop screen (with the camera) and the fellow participants on the second screen.

 

My argument is that presenters (assuming they are familiar with their presentation) should be looking and speaking towards their audience, while occasionally glancing at their presentation. On the other hand, attendees should be focused on the shared content; if the presentation window is on the screen with the camera, the presenter can see that they are following the presentation!

 

Getting a second monitor does not have to cost hundreds of dollars. A new 27” 4K monitor can be $350 or more, and if you (or your company) have the money, then go for it! For the more budget conscious user, a new HD monitor can be far less, but you may even consider getting a used one. Places like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist often have used monitors for $50 or less (yes, it’s important to get the specifications of the monitor, which I will discuss in a future blog).

 

Stay tuned for more tips!

 

 

WEB CONFERENCE TIPS #2

In the next part of our webconferencing tips for work-from-home professionals, we tackle another aspect of effective communication – lighting. 

 

Tip #2: Use a lighting kit!

 

In any meeting (in-person or virtual), being able to see your audience is arguably as important as hearing your audience (and vice versa). The visual cues that people give often help to drive your presentation, or at least it will let you know if they are really listening. As we sit at home in front of our laptops, we are dependent on the quality of the camera, which may or may not be able to compensate for the lighting conditions of the room.

 

Lighting conditions and camera positioning can drastically affect the quality of the image. For example, a participant may be sitting in front of a window, and the resulting image looks like a talking shadow!

 

Boo!

 

It doesn’t take a full (expensive) studio lighting setup to provide a good image. There are many LED lighting kits for as little as $50! But with so many options, which one is right for you?

 

First of all, keep in mind that the light source will likely be close to you, so it does not have to be very bright. Look for lighting kits with at least 1000LM of luminous flux (the amount of light emitted from the lamp); you should be targeting about 50 footcandles of horizontal illuminance at your face. Frosting in front of the lamp is very helpful in diffusing the light.

 

As a minimum, the lighting kit should have brightness control to adjust to your environment. It is also recommended to have adjustable colour temperature to provide accurate skin tones and matching environment. This is especially important for presenters who are planning to record their online presentations for later playback. As with everything these days, when you post something on the Web, it is there forever!

 

Get a lighting kit that can be powered by a battery AND a USB port. Batteries can last several hours, but not everyone is diligent enough to replace the batteries before every meeting. A USB connection ensures that your lighting will last as long as your meeting.

 

Finally, consider the mount for your lighting. Some options include a tripod stand, a clip stand, and even a suction cup right on your laptop (not my favourite). No matter what mount you choose, be sure that your lighting angle can be adjusted. Ball adapters (like the ones found on camera tripods) are best because they can be rotated to just about any angle you need.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more tips!

WEB CONFERENCE TIPS

As we all are forced to work from home, much of our work involves communicating with clients and business associates via webconferencing. Effective communication becomes heavily dependent on technology, as we all sit in front of our laptops. Here are some tips on how to get the best experience possible.

 

Tip #1: Wear a headset!

 

Have you ever attended a webconference meeting, only to hear echoes coming from someone else’s device? Sometimes the only answer is to mute everyone on the call except the presenter, but it diminishes effective communication. It’s like talking on walkie-talkies; one person presses a button to speak, then the next one, and so on.

walkie-talkies-1

The biggest contributor to the echo is the fact that in most laptops, the mic can “hear” the loudspeaker. As you try to raise the volume, the sound can also be heard by the laptop’s microphone. Many laptops and webconferencing apps have “acoustic echo cancellation” (AEC) algorithms, which basically try to remove the echo from the signal. Unfortunately, even though your laptop may have a great algorithm, you won’t appreciate it – the algorithm is only effective for the other participants listening to you! Put another way, if you want to stop hearing the echo from other people, the others need to get better AEC!

 

Sounds expensive? It doesn’t have to be! A headset is probably the cheapest AND MOST EFFECTIVE way of handling those echoes. Think about it – with the speakers right next to your ears, the volume does not have to be very loud, and thus it will not be picked up by your microphone. 

 

Another benefit to a headset is that it minimizes the effect of your acoustic environment. Generally speaking, a headset with a boom arm will bring the microphone close to your mouth, which means that the microphone sensitivity can be reduced and less “ambient” noise can be picked up. Even microphones that are embedded in the headset can provide better voice pickup than simply using your laptop’s microphone. Now let’s be clear – if you’re sitting in your car with the windows open, your microphone will probably pick up the sounds of cars passing by. Aside from extreme circumstances, a headset’s microphone is the better choice!

logitechwireless
Logitech_981000507_H340_USB_Headset_894886

Wired USB headsets can be found at most electronic stores for around $50; wireless versions are about $100+. Even the headphone attachments that come with cell phones can be fairly effective.

 

Stay tuned for more tips!