Best Practices for Video Conferencing

Here are some best practices to consider when connecting to a video conference service as an organizer, presenter, instructor or participant.

Topics:


Ways to connect

The following are ways to connect to a video conference, in order of recommendation:

Computer (PC/Mac): This is ideal as it gives you the most flexibility in terms of software options, content sharing and equipment variation. It is also the most compatible way to connect to a variety of conferencing solutions.

Room system (Polycom/Cisco): This is an appliance-based system integrated into some on-campus meeting spaces. This equipment will provide the best quality experience in terms of fidelity, but may lack compatibility with some conferencing solutions. For example, Blue Jeans and WebEx are supported but Skype for Business is not compatible.

Mobile device (iOS/Android): Most conferencing solutions will have an app for Apple or Android devices in their respective app stores. This is a very portable, convenient solution but there are a number of drawbacks. With handheld devices, it is easy to place them at an inappropriate angle for your camera or rely on wireless or cellular data for your internet access, which could result in additional costs. In addition, many systems do not provide all meeting features to mobile platforms.

Telephone: Some conference solutions provide the option of audio-only telephone access which can be long distance or toll-free. This is a great backup solution for participants with microphone problems or have inconsistent internet access. Some can even be paired with a video connection from another device to synchronize the audio from the telephone. It is always recommended to use an internet-based device if possible for the benefit of its additional features over an audio-only telephone.

Internet access

For most portable devices such as a tablet, phone or laptop, it is typical to be connected to the internet through a wireless connection. The quality of this connection can vary based on the quality of the wireless hardware, as well as your general distance from the wireless access point.

If you are able to do so, it is best to connect to a hardwired internet connection. If this is not possible and you run into issues, it is best to try to be physically closer to your wireless access point. You may be able to stream video without issue in usual scenarios, but video conferencing has stricter requirements due to it being a real-time synchronous experience.

Equipment

Be sure to pick appropriate equipment for appropriate spaces and audience sizes.

Camera: Most integrated cameras on a laptop, mobile device, or an external webcam will be more than adequate for a video conference. The main goal is to add body language to the conversation, but if you are hoping to add on-camera demonstrations to your conference, you may need to consider your specific needs in terms of camera choice and overall environment.

Microphone: Most integrated cameras on a laptop, mobile device or an external webcam will come with a built-in microphone near the camera. These should be more than adequate for 1-2 people in close proximity to the camera to be heard. If more than a few people are attending from one location, you may need to consider your specific needs in terms of microphone choice and overall environment. A separate microphone/speaker system with echo-cancelling abilities may be required.

Headphones: Most integrated cameras and external webcams do not have sophisticated echo-cancelling abilities to help reduce echo, so if possible it is best to wear headphones. This will help isolate the audio of the conference so that the sound is not coming from your speakers and bleeding into your active microphone. Even better, if your headphones come with a built in microphone this will further help your transmitted audio as you will eliminate more environmental noise. If you are using a headset, make sure the attached microphone is placed in front of your chin and not your mouth to avoid possible distortion and breathing noises.

Environment

Camera angle: Your camera should be on or near the screen that will display the other remote participants and be eye level to your seated position. This will ensure that you maintain eye contact as you will opt to look at the other participants as you speak and the closer the camera is to that point of focus the better the outcome.

Mobile devices tend to be held in the hands or lap so it is important to place them properly to create an appropriate eye level camera angle. During this check, take a moment to see what is visible to make sure your space is tidy and professional.

Lighting: Consider the light source(s) in your space. You should avoid backlight such as a window or bright light behind you as that will cause your face to be less visible. Preferred light sources would be in front of you or to the side, but overhead lighting will work as well. Natural or artificial light is fine, but you may notice a color tone difference on your image depending on what is used.

Acoustics: If possible, connect to your video conference from an isolated room. You need to minimize the amount of ambient noise you may be contributing to the conversation that may come in the form of other people, animals, open windows, typing, etc. If your microphone is active, this ambient noise will be heard by everyone else and can be distracting to the people talking. Try to minimize the impact of your environment or mute your microphone when not actively speaking.

Preparation

Ready your device: If you are connecting from a PC/Mac, reboot the device so that resources are freed up and software is refreshed. As well, make sure you close any unnecessary applications or competing software that may also want to use your camera or microphone.
Ready your environment: Use the tips noted above and confirm from your camera view that you are providing a good image.

Test the service: If you are new to a video conferencing service, take the time to test it out well in advance of your scheduled session. You may need to download and install new applications and make sure it works with your configuration and equipment. Addressing these requirements ahead of time provides a smooth experience when your meeting begins.

Connect early: If possible, always join your scheduled meeting 5-10 mins early. If the meeting is moderated, you may not be able to see or hear anyone else until it officially starts, but this provides you with a window of time in case you need to address last-minute problems without disrupting or delaying the start of a meeting.
Features

Screen sharing: When presenting, you may want to share documents and other visual aids such as a PowerPoint. When presented with the option to share your whole desktop or a single application, the whole desktop may be the preferred option. This allows you more flexibility in being able to share multiple items, but you will need to make sure your personal applications and email are closed, as they may be visible during screen sharing and display your desktop alerts/notifications to others.

Annotation/Whiteboard: In addition to screen sharing, you may have the ability to annotate over these shared documents or launch a separate whiteboard, which would provide a blank canvas for annotation. If you are using a PC/Mac, the mouse/trackpad will be your default writing tool, while your touchscreen will provide controls on a mobile device. If you wish to have more precision during your annotation sessions you can look into writing tools such as touch monitors and writing tablets.

Moderation: If you have a large remote attendee meeting, it is important for someone to be assigned as moderator to help maintain a smooth experience. Depending on the service used, this delegation will provide additional functionality such as the ability to mute and disconnect users and record the session.

Recording: When recording a meeting, permission from all attendees is required. You need to consider that all participants could potentially be seen and heard. The chain of custody, potential audience and lifespan of the recording should also be considered. Please contact the Information Access and Privacy (IAP) Office if you have further questions.

Considerations

Microphone Etiquette: Unless you are the chair of a meeting or an active participant, you should keep your microphone muted at all times. You want to minimize the amount of ambient noise you are contributing to the conversation and mute your microphone unless you are actively speaking. By design, conference services often focus on the active speaker’s video and you could accidentally draw focus away from the conversation to yourself with enough noise.

Audio before video: Your voice is the best contribution to a video conference. If you have internet bandwidth issues it is best to prioritize audio and either disable your camera to conserve bandwidth or switch to telephone access.

Time zones: Remote participants could be anywhere in the world, so consider the time zones of those connecting to your proposed session when scheduling your own video conference.

Text chat: If you need to ask a question that is not part of the discussion such as a technical question, you can use the chat feature to discreetly communicate without disrupting the active conversation.

Signal to talk: Try to provide a visual cue that you wish to speak such as raising your hand instead of unmuting and interrupting the flow of conversation. You could also type your request to speak into the chat window. Some video conference applications also have a raise hand function that can be used for this purpose.

Contact

Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000