The following notes were prepared for the Next Century Foundation by our senior member Mr Matthew Tomkinson. They may be helpful as a guide for the NCF’s Healing the Nations Conference attendees.
With the Covid 19 pandemic there has been a massive increase in online conferences, meeting and general chats. This is made easy with current software and hardware. Programmes such as Teams, Zoom, Skype etc. make the process of seeing and talking to a remote person or group quick and effective. Computers, either laptops or desktops with a web cam or even a mobile phone and built in microphones make the transmission and reception of pictures and audio quick and easy.The downside to all this being so easy is that most people don’t think about how they look and sound to others. There are a few simple tweaks that can be made.
Think of a newsreader in a studio. With the newsreader is at least one camera, lights and a background. Do they go to all that trouble just for fun? No, of course not. The reason they do it is to increase your engagement in the programme and hence the news. No one expects you to go to this expense and care but by paying attention to what they do, you can do something very similar and engage your audience who is watching you talk and it doesn’t matter if this is as part of a meeting, a conference as a speaker or a webinar. The principles are the same as you are wanting to keep the same effect of engagement.
Since you probably don’t have access to a television studio and all of its crew and equipment you need to provide this yourself to the best of your abilities.
How do you Sound to others?
Good sound that is clear and easy for others to hear and hence engage with what you are saying is vital. Our concentration tends to be on pictures but I understand that the brain focusses more on the audio. In any case I will get to the visual side later.
Phones, tablets and computers have very basic microphones that pick up sound from all around them. Most of us don’t have quality microphones but if you do then please use it The next best to use is earphones with a microphone or headset. These have two advantages. Firstly they place the microphone close to the mouth and hence the majority of the sound they are picking up is from you. Secondly they send the audio you hear directly to your ears and hence avoid any issues of howlround or feedback. You can turn up the audio level comfortable to you.
If you have earphones, headphones or a separate microphone then please use it.
Once you have decided what you want to use and have it plugged in please check the audio ‘level’. This is how much the amplification of the microphone is set up to give a good audio level to listeners. There can be up to three ways to achieve this which sounds a bit complicated but generally any one of them will work.
- If you have a specialist microphone then this might well have its own software to set it up. If you have gone to the trouble of buying your own mic then you will know how to set this up.
- The second ways is on the computer operating system itself. Mostly this is set up on the meeting software but if you have your own microphone it may well come with its own set up.
- I use a Mac and I would go to System Preferences – Sound Icon – Input Tab and then adjust the Input level so that the grey markers peaked at about 80% (12th grey bar). You can also select the input source, microphone, that you wish to use if you have more than one setup.
- I’m not familiar with Windows operating system these days but I believe to adjust the microphone level you would select the Speaker Icon bottom right of your screen – Open Sound Settings – Select Input – Select Levels Tab – Microphone Level. If this doesn’t make your microphone loud enough then you can also add some Microphone Boost but please don’t unless really necessary as this can increase the noise level as well but depends on what sort of microphone you are using.
- Thirdly the conference or meeting software often has it’s own way to check for sound levels. It’s always a good idea to check the audio levels, in and out, for any conference before you start especially if you share equipment with someone else.
- Zoom – Full and detailed instructions are here – https://bit.ly/2Aq8rko
- Teams – Instructions, not quite so detailed, are here – https://bit.ly/2YZYgN4
- Skype – Click on More (three dots to the right of your name – Settings – Audio & Video then make sure you can see yourself in the camera image and do an audio test.
Please be very aware of noises around you disturbing the meeting or conference. If you are not speaking it is best to mute your microphone. Different programmes have differing ways of doing this but almost always on the main screen. If your mic is live then please do not type on the keyboard, especially with a laptop as this will be heard very clearly by everyone.
How do you Look to others?
Think back to that newsreader we talked about at the beginning. What is the angle of their face to the camera? How is the lighting on their face? What does the background look like? We will now answer those questions.
- Camera Angle – Does the newsreader look down or up at the camera? No. The camera is level with their face so you need to do this when you position your camera whether it’s a laptop, webcam, phone or video camera. You will probably be sitting at a desk for your meeting or conference. If so the normal camera position will be too low. Tilting the screen back just gives you an under the nose or chin shot. Never attractive. So raise the laptop by putting it on a pile of books, have the screen at right angles to the desk and the camera in line with your eyes when you look straight ahead.
- Camera position. How should you sit in the frame? Generally in the middle. The conference arranger might want you to sit to one side if they are going to arrange a Powerpoint or similar, presentation so that it appears on your shoulder but this is probably rare. So sit in the middle of the picture.
- Lighting – The point of lighting is to make you look good so why wouldn’t you pay attention to it? First of all lighting needs to be of a decent amount for the camera you are using. Does your picture look grainy and dark? If so you need more lighting. This should be evenly across your face so two light sources, one either side of your face. These can be table lamps or ‘anglepoise’ lights. Does your face now look evenly lit and bright? If so then you have achieved the right effect. If it’s too bright then move one of the lights away. Do you have any harsh shadows? Then move the lights around.
- Background – It has been said that there are two parts to a picture. The foreground and the background. Clearly you will be the foreground and so far we have managed to make you sound and look good. But what is behind you? If it’s a window or very bright background then that will affect how the camera sees the overall picture and will make you look too dark. Ideally the background will be a bit darker than your face but I am getting quite picky with that! It’s best not to have too fussy a background with bookshelves or a fancy painting as people might be distracted by that. Definitely don’t have a moving background as that will mess with the image compression and probably deteriorate the image.
- Some cameras (laptops, phones etc.) have a auto focus facility. Make sure that the camera focusses on your face. In a recent broadcast conference I saw one speaker give his whole presentation with him out of focus but his elegant bookcase perfectly in focus. You would think they would know better!
There are two other areas to discuss, Browsers and Broadband.
This is what you access the internet via and it includes Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Tor. These can limit access to your camera and microphone. I did have a situation with Chrome where it couldn’t see my camera or hear my microphone. I then had to change the browser settings. On Chrome this is Click on More (three vertical dots to the right of the menu bar – Settings – Scroll down to Privacy and Security then select Site Settings – then Permissions for Camera and Audio. Then change settings as required. Chrome does this to protect you from malicious websites who might want remote access to your camera or microphone without your knowledge.
I’m not aware of the other browsers having such settings but it is possible.
Broadband connection is often referred to as ADSL. The important part about this is the A for Asynchronous. This means that your download speed is different to your upload speed. You might have a download speed of 30 Mbps and an upload speed of 5Mbps stated in your contract. Many times you won’t get that speed as your internet connection is shared amongst other houses or properties. So if you measure your speed, using something like OOKLA (www.ookla.com) you won’t see these speeds. Often this doesn’t matter as the largest files you download are probably films and programmes. However, in video conferencing you will want to share your pictures with others which means that the upload speed, because you are uploading your video to the internet, does matter.
So what can you do about this to improve it? Generally you can’t change the time of the conference, so it’s when your neighbours aren’t online, and you can’t change your supplier or get faster at short notice. Your options are limited but I would suggest that you connect your computer or device to the router via a cable and not use wireless if you can help it. Wireless, unless you have a very good system, will generally slow you down. If you want to check this do three tests with a wireless connection using OOKLA or similar, then plug in a cable and do three more tests. See if there is any difference.
- Use an external microphone if possible for increased clarity.
- Set up the microphone levels correctly.
- Mute your microphone when not speaking.
- Position your camera so that you are not looking up or down at it.
- Light your face evenly and with enough so as to give a good picture.
- Pay attention to your background and never in front of a window.
- Make sure the camera focuses on your face and nowhere else.
- Make sure your browser is not inhibiting your mic or camera
- Connect via a cable to your router whenever possible.