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It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: video chat

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Webcam During Conference Calls

Do you often forget about your computer’s webcam during a video conference call? Or do you prefer to hide in the shadows of audio-only mode? Here’s why you really can’t avoid this collaboration tool at work…

The forward march of technology has finally enabled video to become a standard collaboration tool in the workplace. Sure, the phone is still an option when joining a conference call, but I find that many folks are using their computers… and their webcams.

Once upon a time, lots of people used to shy away from group video chats (and granted, many still do). But now, video conferencing from anywhere there’s Wi-Fi is suddenly the norm! And it feels like hardly anybody cares that they’re streaming 30-60 minutes of their every move to a certain population of viewers. Have they forgotten that the camera has placed them in the center of a crowded virtual room?

It would seem so…

People are Watching You
It’s hard not to look at these little squares of humans as if you’re getting some sort of secret-agent view into their lives. And I’m not referring to people who have the floor…

I’m talking about everyone else! Those are the shots that can be strangely interesting to observe… sometimes more interesting than who’s talking.
(And if you notice that someone is working from home, don’t tell me you’ve never graded their home-decorating skills!)

Multitasking in Plain Sight
I’ve observed a variety of people from different work environments and cultures, and my impression is… those who aren’t actively engaged in the group conversation are generally doing one of two things… either staying focused on the topic… or pursuing some level of distraction.

Most provide the general illusion of normal, but occasionally you could observe something rather unusual. Once, I was surprised to see someone actively participating in a video call while driving. And I mean I was watching him drive, because his smartphone was pointed right at him!

Practicing Video Production 101
I’m befuddled that so many people either forget or no longer care that a part of the world is anonymously watching them…

It’s really difficult for me to understand, because with my background creating corporate video content, I can’t help but think about how my shot looks when I’m doing a video conference… Is the lighting good? Is the angle level? Am I centered? Does the background look uncluttered?

If I’m not feeling the shot is right, or I can’t give 100% focus on the video call, I turn off my webcam.

You Can’t Hide for Much Longer
All this said, I do recognize that not everyone is ignoring the power of their webcams. I do observe colleagues intentionally using their webcams to maximize their participation in a video conference. A good shot can simulate sitting at the head of the virtual table. Good for them!

If you were to combine the percentage of folks who passively use their webcams along with those who are maximizing their shots, I would say that easily represents a majority of video-enabled conference-call attendees. And that percentage will only keep growing. So if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines as an audio-only participant, you going to need to jump into the pool…

Give Your Face More Light
Don’t panic. There’s plenty of time to prep your shot for prime time (if that’s your concern).

One tip that will help dramatically improve how you look is to bathe your face with a source of soft lighting. That will help remove any harsh shadows. One option is to simply position yourself and your laptop next to a window (as long as you’re not in direct sunlight).

If there’s no window nearby, you can use a portable light and position it in front of you. A really inexpensive option is to use a round, hanging paper lantern.

This 17 ¾” diameter shade made by Ikea is a good choice.
It sells on Amazon for $12.22.

Then, you attach the shade to a bulb mount and power cord.
This one on Amazon costs $11.99. It’s 20 feet long and sports an on/off switch.

It’s a really simple solution, and it’s actually used as a remarkable lighting hack by some professional TV and video lighting gaffers I’ve worked with.

Full Attendance is Required
If you’re not powering up your webcam, I say your time has run out. I think soon… the cultural norm will be for all participants to use their webcams when virtually attending work meetings.
(That’s such a big shift from not so long ago…)

So, instead of being able to catch up on email during video conference calls, you’re going to have to attend with your ‘smiling face.’

There’s a silver lining here…

If everyone is required to fully ‘show up’ to every video conference they’re invited to, that will put pressure against a workplace trend we’d all like to trim back… too many meetings!

…a conversation for another day.

How to Prep the Shot for your Next Video Call

Your smartphone suddenly comes to life. It’s an incoming FaceTime request! Are you really ready for your close up?

Remember that innovative ‘PicturePhone’ room on Space Station V from “2001: A Space Odyssey?” Well, it wasn’t long until that crazy sci-fi videophone idea actually became a reality, but you certainly didn’t see many landline videophones in homes over the following decades.

The concept took it’s time gaining wide acceptance. And it required now mainstream computer and mobile apps like FaceTime and Skype to help the general population break through the video barrier on phone calls.

It’s such an obvious ‘upgrade’ to be able to see someone too, and where the bandwidth allows, it feels like many people today freely use their video-calling apps.
(If they’re not texting each other instead)

But let’s face it… lots of other folks still aren’t that excited to be surprised by a sudden video chat request.

And why is that?

The Power of Video
There’s always been a certain anonymity to voice-only calls. Nobody knows where you are, what you’re doing or what you’re wearing… or not wearing.

You can also multitask while on a voice-only call.
…or so I’m told.

Now, you add video into the equation, and BAM… you’re right there in front of someone!

On the upside, mobile video calls can bring the caller right into your surroundings… If you’re walking in a parade or waiting on line at a ski lift, those types of environments can provide rich texture to what you’re up to in that moment. It’s the ‘location’ bonus that makes your video chat that much more interesting.

A Video Chat Isn’t Always a Random Moment
But when you’re at home and those FaceTime tones chime, you may have to scramble to put together an acceptable ‘visual presentation.’

So I think you need a plan for how to appropriately prepare, especially if it’s for business…

No, you don’t need to build a little TV studio set in your living room that you’d run to.
(Like Kramer did on “Seinfeld”)

But it wouldn’t hurt to take a few ‘reasonable’ steps in that direction…

Choose Your Shot
You should definitely decide and test what your ‘shot’ is going to be.
You don’t want to look like you’re in your own hostage video. Nor do you want to reveal that basket of unfolded underwear and socks waiting for your attention.

Think about your background. You may have to stage a few of the items and remove some of the clutter.

Using a desktop computer or even a laptop for your camera probably won’t give you the flexibility you’ll need to create your desired shot. That’s why a more portable device is the way to go, if you have that choice.

But holding a smartphone or tablet in front of your face for a half hour or more is logistically challenging.
(Plus, your unstable shot will likely make the viewer seasick!)

To create a more stable shot, you can certainly pile up a bunch of books for a good height and position for your propped-up device.
(I’ve done it.)

However, that definitely falls into the category of ‘wonky,’ and it’s never perfect.

There’s got to be a better way to more easily mount your smartphone or tablet into an exact position to get the ‘perfect’ shot.

Well, of course there is…

Lock Your Shot with a Flexible Mount
There are a variety of gooseneck smartphone/tablet mounts on the market which will solve the problem. You simply grip and tighten the gooseneck’s base to the edge of your table or desk. And then you move the gooseneck into the exact height and position you need.
(A little higher is usually better for the angle towards your face)

And… voilà! Your hands-free solution is in place!

I decided to go with the Mingo Gooseneck Tablet Holder and Desk Mount for $26.99 on Amazon.

It provides three different mounts that screw onto the end of the gooseneck. Those options will keep you covered for both smartphone and tablet use.






The Mingo is a little more expensive than the competition, but the reviews suggest it’s more durable over time. I also like that its 28.7” gooseneck is longer than most of the choices. That makes it easier to pull it into the perfect position on your desk.

Give Your Face Some Light
You’ll also want to find a little soft lighting to help remove any harsh shadows on your face. One option is to simply position yourself in front of a window.
(As long as you’re not in direct sunlight)

If that doesn’t work with the angle of your planned shot, you can hang a portable light in front of your face. A really inexpensive solution is to use a round, hanging paper lantern.

This 17 ¾” diameter shade made by Ikea is a good choice.
It sells on Amazon for $16.99.

Then, you attach the shade to a bulb mount and power cord.
This one on Amazon costs $9.99. It’s 20 feet long and sports an on/off switch.

It’s a really simple solution, and it’s actually used as a remarkable lighting hack by some professional TV and video lighting gaffers I’ve worked with.

Look at the Camera!
And now that we’ve come this far to create a professional-looking shot, there’s one more thing…

Always focus your eyes on your device’s camera dot… not at your own image. Otherwise, you’ll always appear to be looking somewhere else as opposed to the person you’re video chatting with!

And that just becomes annoying.

Your Smartphone Should Give You the Best Shot Possible
So, the next time you need to do an important FaceTime or Skype session with someone on the Kubrickian ‘Space Station V’ or perhaps with a business contact in a more terrestrial location, now you’ll be prepared to look your best…

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