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Tag: Zoom video

The Struggle Between Good and Good Enough on Zoom

Showing up properly for your next meeting requires a different set of tools and attitude in this Zoom-centric reality. Here’s why it matters.

Over the past year, the Zoom revolution has put the spotlight on home video production to handle content creation for any number of needs including work, web and broadcast.

If you want to create a quality video feed using something less than professional video gear, it’s been demonstrated that you can do that. It takes some cash, though not a boatload of money, compared to what professional gear costs.

You may need to invest in:

  • A good webcam
  • A desktop tripod
  • Lighting that’s soft on your face
  • A decent microphone

Then, make sure you’ve got a real background that’s interesting, but not cluttered. (I’m less excited these days about virtual backgrounds.) And now you’re probably ready to create some decent looking video content.

No, it’s not going to be the same quality as what thousands of dollars of gear can do for you, but it’s not terrible either.

Unnecessary Effort?
But to generate a video and audio feed that’s good, you’ve also got to put in some effort. It’s not only about the gear you’re using. And there’s the rub.

It takes time to set it all up and maximize your shot.

It’s clearly a different level of commitment than opening your laptop and clicking on Zoom (or other video conference apps).

A simple click is still going to get a video and audio signal out to your viewers. And I bet a lot of people would say that’s good enough.

Good enough.

If good enough works for you, why spend money and unnecessary time to make it better?

The Allure of a One-Click Solution
I think that everyone should always try to look their best, both in person and in a virtual environment. Presenting yourself to your world is a life-long task. But I think when using Zoom, that can be a difficult sell.

Sure, if you’re hosting a webinar or doing a live shot for a media company, you probably understand that your video and audio feed should be the best possible.

But I imagine there are countless Zoom moments when people feel it’s not particularly important to do anything more than the bare minimum. Why not just open your laptop and simply click and start your video stream?

It’s good enough.

Why Deal with the Mess?
Whether using your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, technology has given us the ability to do the impossible. Generating a live video feed once took lots of people and expensive production gear to accomplish the same feat through a TV station’s full resources.

Professional video production often looks like a mad scientist’s lab with cables and power cords running askew and bright lights dangling from the ceiling.

You can also create a mess if you’re trying to improve your Zoom game at home when adding in your extra gear. Simple isn’t exactly the way to describe the experience.

On the other hand, simplicity, speed and dare I say… elegance is what comes to mind when you just lift up your laptop screen without any additional video prep, and you’re instantly ready to activate your next Zoom.

That’s hard to beat and a great reason for good enough.

Zoom is Now a Part of Life
In most Zoom situations, why should anyone feel the need to do more? (Heck, even activating your video feed is an step that so many opt out of.)

I like to say you’ve got to show up for your close up. But it’s really more about simply showing up.

This is your life. Like it or not, Zoom is now a necessary part of it.

We are a social species. To be most effective when communicating, people really need to see you. And a terrible representation of your image that barely looks like you isn’t enough. It can say you’re dialing it in. Or worse… You don’t care.

That’s why good enough isn’t good enough.

It’s Time to Shine
Face it. Your life is being televised now.

So put on your Zoom shirt. Set up your Zoom shot. And do your best to fully inhabit your little Zoom box.

Then reach out and connect.

Good.

Why Your Zoom Viewers Can’t Hear You

Mismanaging the mute button may seem like a rookie mistake during Zoom calls, but it’s a more frequent problem than you’d expect. Here’s why…

This ‘golden’ age of Zoom has redefined what to expect from daily video communications. Sure, throughout these ongoing months of isolation, there have been any number of ways to improve the quality of our Zoom calls.

And in the Zoom meetings I’ve attended, I’ve observed a growing awareness of video production best practices. That said, there’s one skill that many people still seem to struggle with… handling the mute button.

We Can’t Hear You!
How many times have you heard someone say to a Zoom speaker, “Are you on mute? We can’t hear you! (pause) We still can’t hear you. You’re on mute!”

This epidemic of awkward Zoom silence is partially the result of education campaigns during the early months of the pandemic to mute yourself if you’re not talking in a Zoom meeting.

Remember all of those Zooms that imploded because there were a couple of people who couldn’t mute themselves if their lives depended on it? And then they would jabber away as they talked to their household members, unaware that their microphones were unmuted.

Besides being an embarrassing oops to unknowingly allow everyone to eavesdrop on your life at home, this mistake will also effectively derail any Zoom meeting.

So by now, we’ve learned to mute ourselves to avoid becoming
Zoom Enemy #1.

Expect the Unexpected
It’s certainly better to try to talk on a Zoom while still muted rather than saying something that your Zoom world shouldn’t hear. But it’s still a mistake that anyone should strive to avoid.

At the end of the day, I think the solution comes back to maintaining enough focus on the live elements. For those of us who have tried to ‘master’ Zoom, we’ve instead put a lot of work into our preproduction.

  • The lighting
  • Your background
  • The right microphone

But when our imaginary on-air light pops on, I feel we’ve tended to let down our guard and assume the technology will handle itself.

Keep your Hands on the Virtual Steering Wheel
Live television used to take a whole control room of production experts to ensure success. It’s amazing that Zoom has boiled it down to just a few clicks of your mouse.

That said, someone really needs to pay attention to your Zoom stream while you’re talking. And that person is you.

Any number of problems can crop up.

  • Someone can unknowingly walk into your background, but this now happens so frequently that nobody cares anymore.
  • Your attention might get temporarily diverted, which could require you to first mute your video.
  • You may subsequently forget to unmute your video. That’s not usually a dealbreaker.

But if you lose track of your audio, you’re either the 800-pound gorilla in the virtual room or a Luddite who doesn’t know how to work your microphone.

Don’t Forget to Unmute Yourself
Zoom isn’t really a set-it-and-forget-it technology (well, not yet).

You simply need to train yourself to pay attention your video and especially your audio feeds throughout your personal and professional Zoom calls. And that requires a diligence to be constantly muting and unmuting yourself exactly when you need to focus on the content of what you’re saying.

If you feel like that’s an annoying juggling act, it is. But it’s a small price to pay to step up your Zoom game.

Can you hear me?

Practice your Magic
During this difficult time for so many of us, it’s certainly understandable that there may be tons of distracting elements in your environment that are urgently competing for your attention. Sometimes it can feel like you need a magic wand.

Zooming at home throughout the day brings new meaning to art of multitasking. There’s no perfect solution. But beefing up your Zoom muscle will certainly help you keep all of your balls in the air.

Happy juggling!

This Trick will Improve your Zoom Virtual Background

Using a virtual background with Zoom can be hard to get right. Here’s a way to upgrade your look in this digital arena.

Have you gotten a haircut yet? I haven’t. Now, after months of COVID-19 seclusion, my Zoom video shots look like a time portal back into ‘70s. Yes, I must admit I’ve started using hair gel to try to tame my mad scientist look. But I know it’s not sustainable for any long-term plan. I’m spotting lots of folks now with new haircuts. I certainly can’t wait two years until there’s a vaccine!

I think this speaks to what we’re all currently grappling with… how to traverse this new reality when the plan to continue to lock yourself up at home isn’t realistic anymore.

For now though, I’m relying on my hair gel as well as a cool video trick I’ve discovered to improve my Zoom videos when using virtual backgrounds. 

The Challenge Using Virtual Backgrounds
The holy-grail solution to generating a great virtual background is to place a green screen behind you that spans your entire background. Then, Zoom will create a beautiful chroma-keyed background using the green. 

The other option is to let Zoom figure it out without the benefit of a solid color. It works, but often with the edges of your head and body shimmering like an apparition.

Maybe some people don’t care how ‘solid’ they appear with their virtual background. But I just can’t let that sloppy look go without attempting to fix it.

The Limitations of Space Restriction
But, the challenge I face when trying to improve my own virtual background starts with the basic shot my iMac’s webcam creates. It’s a relatively wide field of view, and you will see much more of my home office than I’d prefer. 

No, there’s no dirty laundry to see. (I moved all that another foot away.)
But it’s still not pretty.

I can’t cover my entire background with a green screen, because there simply isn’t enough room based on the configuration of my home office. Even if I could somehow jam one in, I wouldn’t be able to move around anymore. So that really wouldn’t work…

But I’ve figured something else out that does…

Add a White Screen Behind your Head
My trick is to place some ‘white’ behind your head and shoulders. It can be with a white screen, curtain or even a big piece of white paper. It doesn’t have to cover your whole background. Just enough of your body.

Then, when you activate your virtual background, the white screen also disappears, and it does wonders to reduce that horrible black ‘helmet outline’ that often surrounds your head.

And if your virtual background displays lots of white or brightness behind your out-of-control hair, the overall key around your head will look much more realistic. That’s because the virtual background will appear to show through the mess of your hair. 

Otherwise, Zoom will digitally crop the edges of your hair with that black line circling your head.
(Now, if you want Zoom to give you a digital haircut, go right ahead!)

Brighter Backgrounds will Help You Light your Face 
There’s also another big benefit to adding some white behind you before activating your virtual background. It can really improve how your face looks!

This is especially true if your room is generally dark. That’s because ‘Zooming’ in a darker space generally forces your webcam to overexpose your face while trying to bring out more detail in the background of your shot.

So then, when you’re forced to lower the lighting on your face to fix the problem, you end up sitting mostly in the dark.  

And then it becomes a cascading problem, because you really want more light on your face to help your webcam display it properly. Without enough light, your whole shot starts to deteriorate.

But…

If you’ve got the white screen behind you, that will trick your webcam into thinking your background is relatively bright, and it will then automatically allow more light to hit your face and improve your look. 

Here’s my collapsible white screen.

And here’s how I look in my virtual background using my hidden white screen.

My coloring looks normal.

Here’s the same shot without using my white screen.

My skin tone is off, and I look overly pink and generally overly lit. Plus you see that unnatural black edging by my left ear.

I feel the difference is definitely worth the extra step of setting up the white screen.

Now, it’s showtime!

Give Your Face a Little Pop!
The collapsible white screen I’m using is the Studio Essentials Pop-Up Reversible Background (5’x6.5’ Black/White).

$49.99 at B&H Photo

But any home-grown solution using a roll of white art paper will work just as well.

One more tip: Don’t only focus on how your face and hair show up on your next Zoom call. Remember to also pay attention to how your shirt looks. Certain patterns will shimmer in your video (like my shirt did in the above test shots).

And hair gel.

Video chatting is here to stay. Sure, we’ll eventually get our haircuts, but getting our Zoom shots into tip-top shape will always be a best practice moving forward.

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