WE ARE CHAINSAW
CREATING A BETTER VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE
If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that hosting meetings and presenting online take a different skill set. And for them to work well, you need to approach them with a different mindset. While most of us are getting used to working at home, there is no doubt that the world provides a continuous stream of distractions. It’s time to go beyond adapting to the “new normal” and think about online meetings as a competitive advantage in the “next normal” – whatever that may be.
During the first few months of the pandemic, Chainsaw shut down our training business and devoted our time to all things virtual—webinars, events, comedy shows, workshops, fundraisers, training courses, team meetings, and the occasional happy hour—to learn what makes up the best experience for everyone involved.
From this research we have created four tips to help you get a great technical set-up and reduce those distractions.
GET YOURSELF CONNECTED
PLUG IN, BABY!
Some wireless connections aren't so great, and remind us of the olden days with those dial-up modems and 30 minute waits for data to load was considered cutting edge. If you're competing with your family for bandwidth from your home office, chances are you're going to have an inconsistent connection and quality experience.
A QUICK WIN
If you can plug in directly to your router, that's going to give you the best connection (see more on this below.) If Wi-Fi is your only option, you can do a few things to improve the quality: sit as close to the router as possible. (Or move the router closer to you!) If that's impossible, try to minimize the number of walls and obstacles in the path of your signal.
Consider a Wi-Fi booster or extender. Standard extenders can link to your existing router quite easily. If you’re handy, you can use the wiring of your house with plug-and-play wiring extenders
GET AN UPGRADE
Most routers now use dual-band technology, broadcasting at the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. If your router settings permit, you might be able to prioritize one or the other for certain attached devices. Claim your priority! The 5 GHz band will get you a faster connection to the Internet, though it has a shorter range than 2.4 GHz.
If you really want to get a bulletproof connection, you could choose to upgrade your router entirely. A lot of standalone and separate routers can not only broadcast farther, but have pairing options allowing repeaters to be added ensuring the best signal anywhere in the home. If you’re feeling confident about your abilities, unlocking mesh routers and placing multiple nodes around the home can give you the best coverage possible.
PLUG IN FOR HIGH SPEEDS
With some some technical know-how and time, the most effective approach is to hardwire into your router. Wired connections are the clear winner when it comes to bandwidth, stability, and speed.
Ethernet cables are inexpensive to source, and you may have a few stashed in your miscellaneous cord drawer! If your router is too far from your meeting room to avoid unsightly cables, use a powerline system (your electrical network) to expand your home hardwire capabilities and range.
One caveat: Your Internet Service Provider will ultimately dictate the maximum speed of your Internet access. If possible, try and get the highest bandwidth available for your area. No matter how innovative your home setup, the speed and consistency will only be as good as your provider allows.
PROTECT YOUR BANDWIDTH
Ask other Internet users in your household to restrict their usage while your meeting is live, especially for gaming and streaming video, which will typically eat up a lot of bandwidth. This tactic can even help when it comes to those unexpected family member appearances.
If you can dictate meeting times, find out when the “Internet rush hour” is in your area, and schedule your conference call at a different time. Follow this link for a handy speed check. You may be surprised at your neighborhood’s peak hours.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
(OR AT LEAST NO ANNOYING AUDIO FEEDBACK)
Like webcams, built-in microphones offer the cheapest, easiest solution for making your point heard in a virtual meeting. And, they are for the most part perfectly adequate. With the caveat that if you’re the person who introduces a garbled, high-pitched whine whenever you unmute, your built-in setup is not adequate.
INVEST IN QUALITY
If you are a presenter, keynote speaker, or anyone who wants to be confident they are heard clearly in every meeting, it’s worth investing in an extra quality microphone. If bandwidth bottlenecks, your video will freeze or be cut off— unfortunately it’s happened to most of us. But if you are still delivering crisp, clear audio you may keep your audience engaged and make your meeting a success.
Your best investment for the price is a headset, which tamps down feedback, gives you some privacy, and usually has a more superior microphone than your built-in. Bluetooth is ideal, because you’ll be tangle-free, but a less expensive wired headset with mics will work. Ear pods and most Bluetooth headsets are also easy to set up. Just make sure that you’re fully charged before your call. Most platforms, including Zoom and Teams, will give you options to select your microphone source.
Since the rise of YouTubers and Twitch gamers, the roll-out of home studio mics has become ubiquitous. Many plug-and-play USB options are widely available. Condenser mics have a shorter “range” (cardioid pattern, if we’re being technical) to avoid picking up the neighbor’s dog barking. This gives you deeper vocal tones and crisper dynamics by focusing on your voice. Be careful about positioning your external mic, as they will pick up unwanted sounds—clicking keyboards, outdoor noise—when poorly placed. It’s worth giving your new mic a test drive before the big meeting.
If you’re already familiar with the basics of audio production, you can level up with an external sound card and traditional condenser or dynamic mic. In a cradle with windshield, this is a great option for professional-sounding delivery. Home recording has become very accessible over the past decade with powerful computing replacing the 'Abbey Road Studios' of past.
Who could write a better starter guide to setting up a home studio than Rolling Stone magazine? Check out some of their top tips in the article below.
EVERYTHING IS BLURRY
IF YOU KEEP USING YOUR BUILT-IN LAPTOP CAMERA. UPGRADE AND BE SEEN
The best tactic we have for replicating in-person meetings is to turn on our cameras. Using the webcam camera built into your laptop is fine… but that is all it is. Fine.
WORKING WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
Built in webcams offer the easiest way to connect with your online audience. Unfortunately, most of them are dark and grainy, and show unflattering angles. Which is fine if you’re just another meeting attendee, probably, but subpar imaging will put you at a memorable disadvantage if you’re a host or key speaker.
If you will be using your built-in camera, try to elevate it with a stand or pile of books to achieve that optimum eye-level shot. Check before the meeting starts to make sure the camera doesn’t cut off your hair at the top, or chin on the bottom. Framing yourself as a medium shot adds context and allows more of a connection between presenter and audience, allowing other attendees to absorb facial cues and some body language. If you are pre-recording your segment, note that editors can tighten the shot, but not broaden it.
ADD AN EXTERNAL CAMERA
External webcams tend to be a higher resolution, work straight out of the box, and easily affix to a tripod so you can easily enjoy the most flattering angles. They are adjustable, so you can easily opt to stand and deliver your speech. You’ll find scores of different brands and types in your price range, most of which work well with Zoom, Teams, GoTo, and other platforms.
OUR DEVICES HAVE HIGH QUALITY CAMERAS - SO USE THEM
If you want to look clearer, consider using your phone (landscape) or tablet for your meetings. The camera on these devices will be infinitely better than your built-in camera.
As a side benefit, on most platforms you can attend a meeting with multiple devices. So, you can use your device for sound and video quality, and your laptop for presenting visuals and screen sharing.
Check out the article below
MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT
No matter what camera you use, take into consideration where your scripts and notes will be located. You want to maintain eye contact with the camera (not the friendly faces onscreen) as much as possible.
Teleprompters, or autocues, were once the province of professional newsrooms and studios alone. Today, however, there are inexpensive setups that mimic professional teleprompters and allow you to give a scripted speech, or just check your notes, without ever breaking eye contact with the camera. In a virtual setting, where silence is rarely golden, this is a great way to feel more confident going into your presentation.
There are scores of teleprompter and autocue products out there. Just be sure to place autocues at the eyeline, so your audience will feel like you’re speaking directly to them. No one will ever know you’re using notes.
RAYS OF LIGHT!
AND SOME HOUSEPLANTS CAN HELP YOU GET THAT PROFESSIONAL LOOK
Great lighting is more important than you think. Your setup almost certainly needs additional lighting if you want to look your best.
FIND THE BEST NATURAL LIGHT SOURCE
The best solution is front-facing natural light—the sun is the highest quality lighting you can get, especially on a budget. Avoid a window or light directly behind you, as your audience will only see a silhouette.
If your office doesn’t get great natural light, there are inexpensive, entry-level lighting options that will work wonders. In a pinch, you could grab a couple of lamps from elsewhere in the house and position them around your workspace.
Pay attention to where you place your external lighting. Play with a few angles and pick the one that illuminates you well, while casting complimentary shadows and providing pleasant highlights. Check the camera to make sure you aren’t getting a distracting reflection off your glasses. This little prep can make all the difference.
These two websites can help you find the best angles and amplify definition. Studies show that people immediately like and trust more attractive people. With the right lighting, that’s an easier illusion to pull off onscreen than in person.
ENHANCE YOUR LOOK WITH ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING
If you can swing it, professional lights are a huge step up. They dramatically improve your appearance and charisma, which makes them an especially worthwhile expenditure if you’re the type of person who dresses to impress at meetings. Good lighting is vital when you use a greenscreen.
Entry-level options include ring lighting, or “selfie lights,” as they are known, which are popular with YouTubers. You can also find LED boxes with a small tripod and most entry-level photography and videography setups.
When you research the best ways to position your lighting, you’ll find that you have greater control over the brightness and temperature with dedicated lights. Some even have a handy phone mount!
YOUR BACKGROUND SAYS A LOT ABOUT YOU
This is one reason why virtual background templates are so popular. Even though we are all dealing with kids at home, presenting in front of a pile of toys is not how to maintain a professional image. C-suite types, accustomed to the authority of the corner office, may prefer their employees not see the pile of dishes in the sink.
Digital backgrounds look cool, but they can be very distracting. It’s hard to pay attention to someone whose arm is flickering in and out of the wall. Should you go this route, however, consider asking a graphic designer to create a custom step-and-repeat background, branded with your company logo. It’s a neat way to hide a multitude of home broadcast sins while staying in line with the brand police.
In any setting, find a background that tells the story of the best version of you. Curate your bookshelf, unless you’re comfortable letting people know you’re an E.L. James fan. Does that painting you love say, “I’m a serious, trustworthy expert on the topic being discussed,” or “Why are those dogs playing poker?” Give your background a quick Marie Kondo and keep it as simple as possible, minimizing distractions. And yes, a houseplant is probably a good idea.