Video chat applications blew up last year, but they’re here to stay, both for home and work use. If you’re ever video calling customers or prospects, your business really should be providing something better than a laptop’s built-in camera and microphone. But what?
My top three things to address would be sound, lighting and camera, in that order, but there’s probably an ‘item zero’ to address first: a decent internet connection. I cannot understand how any company is asking staff to work remotely and not ensuring they have the fastest broadband possible. If you can get your computer connected to your broadband router with an ethernet cable, definitely do so – it’s far better than domestic wi-fi.
For audio, we need to avoid the awful echoing sound which is so commonplace, and sounds so amateur. There are several options which will be better than a laptop or PC’s microphone. The simplest way to get decent sound is a lavalier (or tie-clip) microphone, although some people go even further and put a proper standalone desktop microphone between themselves and the screen. Professional headsets are of course excellent, but I find them a bit intimidating in a conversation. Earbuds with microphones are a decent compromise. Also, try to hold the conversation in a softly furnished room!
Lighting is hard to get right, unless you’re calling during the day and can be by a window (in which case face the window, don’t use it as a backdrop!). I’ve experimented with all sorts of domestic lighting, but nothing is a patch on a proper ring light, which illuminates you from all around and eliminates those unsightly shadows. Cheap USB versions are available.
Finally, the video quality from a laptop or PC’s built-in camera may be adequate, and is probably a lot less unwieldy that setting up a separate camera. But you can do better – your smartphone camera is almost certainly in a different league. If you don’t want to make the call on the smartphone, you can get an app like EpocCam to turn it into your PC’s camera. Get yourself a tiny desktop tripod and the camera can be placed in front of the PC screen, so that you’re actually looking straight at it. One of the worst things about laptop-only calls is that if you don’t take steps to improve things, the camera will be looking up your nose and you won’t be looking at the camera.
If I’m just doing a talking heads call with one or two people, I think a smartphone is quite adequate for the whole call, from a video point of view. There are even ringlights available with a holder for a smartphone in the middle, which is a great idea. Just get better audio. Obviously if you’re watching or providing a screenshow, you’ll need the PC, but there’s no reason not to make the audio and video of yourself more professional.