Pulling off a successful meeting is tricky business. It gets even trickier when people are participating in your meeting through video conferencing.
Interestingly, the complicating factor of video conferencing is no longer the technology. Quite the opposite. The technology has become so transparent, people tend to forget their remote counterparts can only see what the camera is showing them, and hear only what the system’s microphone is picking up.
And that can be a problem.
Everyone at the originating site has complete freedom to adjust as needed – whether to hear/see better or minimize distractions. No such luck for remote participants.
Equalizing the playing field for all participants involves a lot of variables that greatly depend on the circumstances. While there are no simple solutions, there are best practices to consider.
Although we say “video conferencing,” let’s not forget the audio. In picking up clear, crisp conversations, microphones do their best in rooms with minimal reverberations. Flat reflective surfaces like windows, flat walls and polished floors are typical culprits. Sound-absorbing materials such as carpets, curtains/drapes can help, as can large, irregular shaped decorative objects and upholstered furniture.
Sound insulation is a different matter. This reduces outside noises from entering your conference room. Everyone onsite may be accustomed to the different noises, but those sounds will be a major distraction for remote participants.
If you have the luxury of choice, opt for your conference room walls to be a neutral color with medium contrast and soft texture. Choose a table that is light in color, but not reflective.
A video conference should be oriented to the camera. The seating pattern for onsite participants should allow for everyone to see and be seen. For smaller meetings, having the camera looking down the table (with the seat closest to the camera empty and the presenter at the far end) works well. Larger meeting rooms designed for 10 to 30 people will normally work better if the seating is arranged in a “U.”
The primary role of lighting is to eliminate shadows and dark backgrounds while avoiding glare on people, presentation materials or the camera.
Often this is achieved by having uniform lighting through a combination of ceiling and wall “daylight” (5600K) lights. If there are windows, do what you can to eliminate natural light from the room. To a camera, sunlight is very different from artificial light. This can affect the quality of what remote participants see. Curtains or opaque blinds can help with both the lighting and, as mentioned earlier, the sound.
One other precaution – whiteboards. They are highly reflective and can be problematic. If there is one in the room, it needs to be taken into consideration.
For small groups, one microphone is usually enough. If you have multiple microphones, they should be placed as far apart as possible. Ceiling-mounted microphones can be a great option.
Place the microphone(s) as far away from the typical “noise makers” as possible – computers, projectors, ventilation vents, doors, etc.
The quality of your audio is a big deal. Supporting technologies, such automatic echo cancellation, can make all the difference in the world for your remote participants and are worth investigating.
Give or take a degree or two, most video conferencing cameras have a 70° horizontal angle of view. This may play a factor in its placement and the seating of onsite participants.
Natural eye contact for remote participants is best achieved by placing the camera top center of the receiving monitor – pointing directly at the meeting presenter to guarantee eye contact with those at the far end.
If at all possible, the camera should not be pointed toward a background where there is a door that people use, curtains that might sway in a draft, meeting room foot traffic or any other type of scenario that could be distracting.
Like with the microphones, cameras are available with a wide range of capabilities, from static wide- angle cameras to those that can tilt, zoom and even automatically focus on whoever is speaking. Each has its place, depending on the circumstances.
These best practices can take you a long way in the right direction for great video conferences. ExhibitOne is here when you want to go the entire distance.