A fumbler’s guide to live online video chats and meetings

How are you doing with your Zoom / MS Teams / Facebook Lives / Facetime and various other incarnations of live video on the internet, especially now that there are very few – if any – ways to communicate with our clients / customers, colleagues, friends and family otherwise?

The Zoom meeting … our new normal?

A while back I wrote about, and asked my learned colleagues to share their advice on, how to perform on online video as you’ll find from this incredibly comprehensive guide here. And that was before the coronavirus stopped us talking F2F.

But today, as we cope with the most recent restraints … let’s take another look at how we are communicating now. Speaking as a prime techno-fumbler myself and a beginner at this talk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time online video lark, I sympathise with other beginners starting out … especially as so many friends and colleagues are becoming online TV superstars…

Some tips about live online video that I’ve discovered the hard way

Learn how your laptop / desktop / phone does video and practice using it. As most of us are relative beginners with this medium no-one’s going to laugh at you if your phone wobbles or you forget to unmute your Zoom microphone, but things will go more smoothly if you have a reasonable working knowledge of the kit.

Either mute your microphone or keep absolutely silent when it’s not your turn to speak. As I only discovered a few days ago when using Zoom, when it hears a noise it assumes that comes from the person to show large on screen, so it cuts to you for a few seconds until it figures out that you were just scratching your mosquito bite. If you do keep your mic live don’t wear jangly jewellery or rustle paper. Zoom has very long ears.

If you’re doing a “live” with your phone, don’t try to walk along holding it at arm’s length in one hand and your dog’s lead in the other unless you’ve practiced until it’s perfect. Not only will the result be wobbly and shaky but you’re also likely to trip over something and make a fool of yourself. I know only a couple of people who do this beautifully: one is a sales trainer with two little dogs who does “lives” while walking them, and the other is a presenter on Heart Radio who does “lives” while walking to work from the train station. If I tried it, I’d very soon be *rse-over-tea-kettle* as my late dad used to say. Practice, practice, practice.

Far safer for beginners doing “lives” with your phone is to place your phone on something solid, sit in front of it comfortably, and speak without worrying that you could trip into dog poop.  You can always experiment with the moving variety in the safety and privacy of your own home, and gradually work up to the roving reporter status.

Lighting isn’t critical: this is not the BBC or CNN. However it does help if there is some light on your face so you don’t look like Count Dracula scuttling away from daylight (try to avoid sitting with your back to a window during the day.) With modern phone or other digital cameras light is picked up surprisingly well, so all you need is, say, a small table lamp to one side of your head. If you wear glasses (as I do) try to angle the light so it doesn’t glare on your lenses much, if at all.

The Trevi Fountain in Rome: more romantic than suburbia

Backgrounds aren’t really important either, although now you can get cute little apps that set you in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome rather than the back bedroom of your townhouse in Croydon, Pittsburgh or Mississauga. As with all video though try to avoid a plant that grows out of your ear or a very busy print curtain that distracts from you. You are the star, after all…

Think about your “eyeline.” Your natural tendency is to look at the person or group you’re speaking to, which may be several inches/centimetres away from the camera in your phone, laptop, tablet, desktop etc. This will make you look shifty, because you’re not “looking” the person or group in the eye/s . Try always to look at where the lens of the camera is when you’re speaking.

Make notes of what you want to say. Although in face-to-face circumstances you wouldn’t need to do this, if you’re a beginner with live online video you might be a little nervous and not speak quite as fluently as you would otherwise. Don’t take a chance that you will remember the points you want to make: even if you don’t need to refer to your notes, the fact that they are there for you to use will make you relax.

Don’t speak over other people. It’s sometimes OK to do this in a F2F meeting but much though sound technology is good now, it’s nowhere nearly as good as the human ear. Our ears can screen out mingling sounds but the microphones can’t which means it all comes out as a mess. It’s important that whoever is chairing live online video meetings mutes the microphones of people who are not due to speak, and/or who have a tendency to interrupt or drone on for too long.

Beware of online etiquette and avoid being rude, even if inadvertently. Here is a good article that shares the do-s and don’t-s … and also highlights the main differences between live online video meetings and the in-person variety. Well worth a read (and don’t you just love the photo of the birthday party? They look like they’re having so much fun!)

What advice do you have to add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Coronavirus update from meeeee….”Milton Keynes – Beating Coronavirus

If any of you have been wondering where I’m holing up for much of the time at the moment, it’s here. I have been taken on to their reporting / reviewing / newsgathering team and am also appearing on some of their MKChannel40News broadcasts.

If you have any COVID-19 related news, comments, views, concerns etc about Milton Keynes (England) and district, come along and join this Facebook group. It’s quite a time-consuming job but I’m enjoying polishing up my old journalism skills… !

Also if any of you have concerns about cancer and related issues in the MK area my cancer group has moved online too – “MK Cancer Patient Partnership Group.”


Image of Zoom meeting by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay