Who’d have thought it? Zoom has quickly shot up the charts and is the most popular app in the App Store and Google Play. Businesses are using the service (among other video conferencing software) for meetings, schools are holding remote lessons, language schools teaching via video link and many other groups around the world are keeping in touch, face to face using their webcams and phone cameras instead of relying on email, Slack or phone calls.
If you’ve been on a video call yourself, you’ll already know that there are challenges. Here we’ll show you how to avoid the classic mistakes people make and ensure you look and sound fantastic on your next call.
How to look good on your next video call
1. Sort out your background
The first thing you realise as soon as you jump on your first call is that your background is messy. It might be possible to declutter, but if you are stuck, Zoom allows you to have a virtual background, so long as you are using the desktop / web version and not the mobile app.
Here’s how to use a photo or video as your Zoom background, with no green screen required.
If you’re using a different app for your video call, check if it lets you set a photo as the background (Skype now has an option to blur the background) or else move your laptop to a more suitable location. If you can’t do that. Install the app on your phone and go somewhere where there’s a nice looking, but not distracting background.
The ultimate background is not a wall immediately behind you, and certainly not a window. Instead, try and sit so there’s some distance between you and what’s behind you as in the image below.
2. Get the right angle
We love Huawei’s laptops, but we hate the camera angle you get from the webcam hidden under one of the keyboard keys.
Even if your laptop has a camera above the screen, it’s often still too low to be level with your eyes. This means you tilt the screen back and end up with a good view of your chin a lot of ceiling as your background.
If possible, raise your laptop (use a laptop stand such as the one below) to raise up the camera so it is facing you as squarely as possible.
3. Light yourself properly
Natural light is likely the best source of light available to you when working from home. If there are no windows near your laptop or webcam, your computer screen and ceiling lights are going to be lighting your face.
The most important thing is to have as much light as possible in front of you, and less behind. If there’s too much behind you, the webcam will underexpose your face and people won’t be able to see you clearly.
4. Use a good microphone
Laptop microphones vary enormously in quality and you’ll have to record a short video and play it back to hear what you sound like. Windows 10 has a built-in Camera app which can record from a webcam.
If it turns out that your microphone isn’t good enough, then your options are to use a different device for video calls, such as your phone or tablet, buy a microphone - such as the Blue Snowball - or buy a headset or headphones which have a good-quality microphone built in. (And here's why all remote workers should invest in wireless headphones.)
The advantage of using a headset or headphones for group video calls is that they eliminate the possibility of echos because your microphone picks up the sound from your speakers and creates a feedback loop.
5. Use a better camera
Sometimes audio is the least of your worries: it’s a quality webcam that is ruining your looks. Again, recording a clip in Windows 10’s Camera app will show you whether or not your camera is capable of good quality or not.
If it's not up to scratch, consider a USB webcam such as the Logitech StreamCam.
This is the easiest way to upgrade your laptop’s camera, but there are various other options including using your DLSR, a GoPro, and even your phone as a webcam.
6. Check your internet speed
Even if you have a brilliant webcam and microphone, a slow internet connection will hamper the quality of your video calls.
Remember that it’s your upload speed that is important here. In the UK most people have ADSL broadband, which means upload and download speeds are different. You might have really fast download speeds, but very slow upload. And it’s upload that is used to broadcast your video feed to the other people on the video call.
Zoom recommends at least 1.5Mbps and a minimum of 600Kbps (0.6Mbps). You can see how fast your upload rate is by going to www.speedtest.com.
If the result tells you your speed is between these figures you should be fine as long as you make sure no-one else in your home is also using broadband for video calls at the same time.
If it’s below the minimum speed, then see if your 3G or 4G connection on your phone is any faster as you may be better off using mobile data for the most important calls.