Simple setup tips for virtual meetings

(or "how not to SUCK on screen")

I didn't think there was a need to share my virtual meeting TIPS with anyone as I thought they were common knowledge by now. But after recently taking a friend through the very simple setup steps, she asked me to publish them so that she could direct other people to them as in her words "so many people still SUCK on screen" in virtual meetings. (HEY - her words, not mine!!).

So here we go - my very simple virtual meeting TIPS follow that well known Hollywood phrase - LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

LIGHTS

As you get ready to join your next meeting, consider how your face will be lit. I've been in many meetings where all I can make out of some of the attendees is an outline as they have their back to a window or a powerful light shining directly behind their head. That's probably fine if you're going for the "horror movie" effect but not so great for a business meeting!

Things to consider:-

  • Where is the dominant light source in the room?
  • If it's day time and there is a window in the room, make sure you face the window
  • Don't ever have your back to the window, or if that's unavoidable close the curtain or blind
  • Always face the strongest light source or if that is an overhead light, position yourself such that it illuminates your face, not the back of your head
  • If it's night time, trying turning different lights off and on to find the best way to get light on your face
  • ** PRO TIP - consider investing in a portable "ring light" that you can clip on your screen or place behind it. These come in a variety of sizes and are an inexpensive way of instantly improving your image on screen (you can pick them up for less than 20 GBP). I have a rather large (14 inch) stand mounted ring light with intensity and colour controls which is probably overkill for most people but then this is my profession and at around 35 GBP it's absolutely worth the investment.

CAMERA

Here the focus is not on the quality of your camera but on the POSITION of your camera. Most modern laptops have pretty decent cameras and there is no need to add an expensive external camera into the mix. But - I'm seriously concerned with the way that many people appear to work on their laptops! You should NEVER be "hunched over" your screen and your eyes should roughly align with the top of your screen - which is where the camera is located. I can't tell you how many virtual meetings I've been on where I'm staring up somebody's NOSE because they are hunched over their laptop with the camera almost facing the ceiling! There are a wide variety of laptop stands available that will elevate your screen and tilt your keyboard at an ergonomic angle - or you can just stack a few books or magazines under the back of it to get the same effect.

Bonus TIP for keynote presenters - align your laptop so that you can stand while presenting instead of sitting down. Your presentation will be far more dynamic and engaging - give it a try next time!

While we are on the camera topic, take a look at what the camera sees! What's in the background? What impression are you projecting to the other participants in the meeting? Many virtual meeting platforms have the ability to enable a "virtual background" which might be preferable to your actual background in the spot you have chosen to setup.

There is one more thing to consider for those of you that use a multi-screen setup. It's now far more common for people to have more than one screen in their home office. If you are one of us then PLEASE remember which screen your camera is on!!! I attended a meeting recently where one of the attendees had clearly opened the meeting app on a secondary screen. Whenever he spoke, all we got was a great view of his EAR as he had turned his head to watch and talk to the screen where the app was open and did NOT face the camera ............ don't be that person!!

Things to consider:-

  • Are you looking into the camera at eye level?
  • What's in the background?
  • Always open the meeting app on the same screen as your camera is located
  • **PRO TIP - if you really want to take your meeting experience to the next level, consider investing in a portable "green screen". This will not only enable you to perform a whole range of technological trickery during virtual presentations but it also has the added benefit of increasing privacy even when a virtual meeting platform lacks virtual background capability. I have a huge AO whiteboard directly behind me and while it's contents might be fascinating to meeting attendees, it also very often contains client confidential information on it as I work through scenarios. My portable green screen came with 2 additional "screens" - one plain white and one plain black - and if I'm attending a meeting on a platform that doesn't support virtual backgrounds, I simply drape one of these over the stand for complete privacy

ACTION

The "action" is all about ATTENTION. Even if you ignore the above tips, please do not ignore the last and arguably most important of the virtual meeting TIPS I have for you.

If you are going to be actively participating in a virtual meeting, people MUST be able to HEAR you loud and CLEAR in order for you to hold their attention!

I cannot stress this point enough.

As someone who has earned the majority of their income over the last few years from delivering keynotes, workshops and training in both physical and virtual environments, I can tell you that slides and visuals are secondary to SOUND.

I have on more than one occasion been in a packed auditorium that has suffered technological failure and I have been unable to use any slides and on one occasion we even experienced a total power failure and all I had was a puddle of emergency lighting to sit in. But the audience HEARD what I had to say and those experiences turned out to be some of the best feedback I've ever received (there is science behind why this is but I won't go into that right now).

So even if your lighting is perfect and your camera is in the right place, it all counts for nothing if the other attendees can't hear you!!

Now I'm not referring to the "you're on mute" trope - I'm assuming you know how to work the controls of the platform you are using and if you don't then please figure it out in advance.

Sadly, most modern laptops have appallingly bad built in microphones. You often won't know this or realise it until you ask for feedback or until you hear the playback of a virtual meeting you have participated in. If you haven't heard yourself yet then I highly recommend you get hold of a friend and set up a virtual meeting on a platform where you can record. It just takes a couple of minutes to chat with eachother and then listen to the recording - many of you will be shocked.

I've been interviewing a wide range of people for my Monsters and Myths show and I always record the voice tracks separately to the video. In almost every single case I have had to pass my guest's audio through a third party application in order to clean and boost it due to the poor quality of their microphones.

Sadly the only solution here is to invest in an external mic or headset in order to solve this problem. I've noticed noise-cancelling headsets are fast becoming the favourite amongst people in shared households as they also eliminate background noise and enable you to focus on the meeting and give it your full attention. Yes, I realise that not everyone wants to look like an air-traffic controller but you can get pretty decent in-ear headphones and often the ones that are supplied with your mobile phone are vastly superior to using your laptop's built in mic and are worth a try.

Do your homework, ask around your network for recommendations - I personally use a "Blue Yeti" mic that is outstanding - it's pricey but worth it for me in my line of work.

Bonus TIP - Airpods are RUBBISH for virtual meetings. I don't know why this is so - I have a pair and I love them - they work brilliantly for listening but the microphone is awful - just ask anyone on the other end if that's what you are currently using.

The last ACTION related point that I want to make is for those of you that are actually presenting during virtual meetings. Please DON'T simply use the same PowerPoint deck that you would have in a face-to face meeting in the office. I can 100% guarantee you that if you slap up a slide in 12pt Times New Roman font, your audience will not HEAR what you have to say until they have finished reading the slide - if they even bother to read it in the first place! I could go into much more depth on this point if you want more tips on how to really rock virtual presentation action then please leave a comment on this post or wherever I posted it - but for now my advise is - consider ditching slides altogether!

Simply be yourself, stare directly INTO the CAMERA (not AT the screen - the audience will think you are looking down at something instead of at them) and engage your audience - make them feel like you are talking directly to them on a one-to-one basis. This is the big advantage of virtual over physical - you can look every single person in the eye at the same time.

THIS is a superpower to leverage to your advantage!

Things to consider:-

  • Have you tested your microphone?
  • Are you SURE you sound good?
  • See point one

THATS A WRAP

There you have it - my top virtual meeting TIPS - just remember the simple

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

steps and I hope to see you starring in a virtual meeting somewhere soon.