The art of video conferencing

Now that we’re so many weeks into the lockdown, we’ve all become reasonably adept at jumping between numerous different video conferencing platforms for meetings, briefings, presentations and webinars. And then at the end of the day there’s usually a quiz or drinks social to join.

At Milestone we’ve now met, won and completed new client projects – all using video conferencing. It’s also becoming an increasingly effective format for B2B content marketing.

But despite it being an increasingly powerful and useful tool we think there’s still massive room for improvement in using VC. Here’s 10 tips:

1. The right perspective
The aim is to achieve a camera angle that’s neither looking up your nose – to a cobwebby ceiling beyond – nor looking down on a bald spot to waste paper bin full of empty crisp packets.

The simple solution is to position your device (desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone) so that the camera is roughly at your eye level, based on your sitting position. Desk height is best as it generally captures a better background. There’s no harm in using a book or two to raise your laptop to the right height.

2. Composition
It makes sense to position yourself in the centre of the frame – and use your device in landscape orientation. Otherwise people viewing on a monitor will get a narrow, portrait crop of you.

Position your eyes about a third of the way down from the top of the screen. This means people will be able to see you clearly.

3. Lighting
Light is best coming towards you or from above rather than from behind. Play with the lighting in your room to get a good balance. You may need additional lighting to get a decent result. And it will change as daylight changes.

4. Context is king
Careful consideration of your background and surroundings is essential. Politicians usually go for an impressive book case, full of curated titles that aim to show that they’re humans. You can do this too, if you like – it’s certainly better than seeing a radiator with pants drying on it next to a dead pot plant.

Celebrities usually go for a cabinet full of awards – it’s becoming a bit boring now.

A completely plain wall is actually not great either, it’s sterile and gives no clues about where or who you are.

Some offer a virtual background option, but they’re never that great.

The best solution is a slightly idealised section of your home or office. Tidy and clean but with some selected features.

Branding can also be used in a subtle or overt way. Use of your brand’s colour palette can reinforce company branding cues and tone of voice and core messaging need to be considered. Blu-Tacking a print out of your company’s logo on the wall behind you is unlikely to add any value, but a well branded prop or piece of wall art could be effective.

5. Props
Carefully arranged props like plants, lamps, pictures, books, furniture, trophies, clocks can all be fine – consider what message they are giving and be ready to explain anything unusual on the call. The right prop can be a great conversation starter.

6. What to wear?
You can wear anything appropriate for the occasion, but consider potential colour clash or camouflage with your background.

7. Sound check
Always do a sound check to make sure you’re coming across loud and clear. And make sure all other devices including land lines are switched off or muted. Good use of the mute button is now part of VC etiquette. Headsets can be a useful way to improve audio quality.

8. Never work with animals and children
There’s not much you can do with pets and kids. Everyone is understanding about ‘wfh’ and often the ‘cat on keyboard’ scenario is the highlight of the meeting.

9. Technology trouble shooting
We’re reliant on decent broadband and wifi to make it work, and that’s not always in our control. You can try to pick times when collective usage in your street is lower or connect your device direct to your router with an Ethernet cable if wifi in your home is the issue.

10. The virtual handshake
Finally, without the ability to start or end meeting with a firm handshake you’ve got to employ other tactics.

A good technique is to use consistent eye contact, smile lots, say hello and wave at the same time. Sometimes, it’s good to announce your name too so people know it’s you talking. Do the same at the end.

So, what’s next?
As well as enabling remote working and content marketing, video conferencing is proving to be a cost effective and sustainable alternative to a lot of travel, so it’s likely to continue and develop. Will one platform emerge as the most popular and easy to use? Or will new technology pop up offering enhanced features or cool factor?

Brands will certainly want to take a greater control of the environments in which their staff communicate with customers. One solution is to look at successful vloggers for ideas on stage managing the whole setting. Another is to use a simple branded pull-up banner to hide a multitude of background sins.

Anyway, the benefits of good video conferencing are numerous. Get it right and you may never have to be in the centre of Birmingham for a 9am meeting ever again!

Management legend Tom Peters from his recent WOBInar: “Management Excellence in Times of Crisis” – combining the classic bookshelf backdrop technique with disappointing composition skills.