By Ramon R. Isberto
(The pandemic has transformed the way we work. As face-to-face meetings with subject matter experts are discouraged, journalists are now using video conferencing platforms to conduct interviews. Watching many of these interviews on TV could make you cringe, you could see the guest’s whole face on your TV and if you’re unlucky enough sometimes their pores and nostrils. When I saw the setup of Mr. Mon Isberto, Head for Public Affairs and Corporate Communications of PLDT and Smart on his GMA News TV interview, I immediately invited him to share how to do it right, like what he did. — Art)
When COVID-19 arrived, many of the usual ways of doing things went out the window. In my line of work, meetings and interviews are my bread and butter, and, are usually done face-to-face. The new normal is video conferencing. After several months of talking with people online, you get the hang of it. Let me put on my Tech Lolo hat and share some lessons I’ve picked up on how to use video conferencing effectively.
Tip # 1: Get the right tools. Use them properly.
Check your equipment. The minimum specs for your camera should be 720p resolution (1280×720 pixels) and for your PC or phone at least 1GB of RAM and a dual-core processor. Most mid- and high-range smartphones, tablets, and laptops will do the job. If you are a heavy user, I suggest that you dedicate a device just for video conferencing. In my case, I use a tablet, with a smartphone as backup. If you have the budget, it is useful to get a tripod so you can set up a stable shot. Also, ring lights for better lighting. Headphones or earphones with built-in microphones are a must for clear audio, and to avoid troublesome feedbacks and echoes. Of course, make sure that you have a strong, stable internet connection. In my case, dahil Smart ako (smile), I use my Smart LTE-powered pocket Wi-Fi device when on the go, and my PLDT Fibr Whole Home connection at my residence. The minimum data speed for video is 5 Mbps.
Tip # 2: When at home, find the right site
You need to find a cozy, quiet, and well-lighted spot in your house and make that your base. The table should be of the right size and height and your chair has to be comfortable. Check your background. That’s what people will see. A clean, simple background is usually better. If that’s not possible, you can use the virtual backgrounds available in various video conferencing platforms. Some cybersecurity experts warn that you should not keep anything in the background that has identifying information. Bad people can take stills of your background, blow up the photo, and read it.
Tip # 3: Find your best angle.
Check how your face is framed before going online. Make sure that you have enough headroom. Not too close nor too far. Keep the camera at the same level as your face so that you do not look down at the person you are talking with.
Tip # 4: Check your lighting.
You can use tools such as ring lights, or use natural light if you are near a window, or, you can simply turn on all available lights in the room to liven up your video. I prefer having a clear but soft light on the face. Ring lights can give you that. Watch out for weird shadows or glaring light that may be reflected on your face or on your eyeglasses.
Tip # 5: Learn to use various platforms
There are several good video conferencing platforms. While you may have a preferred choice, I think you need to learn to use several. At work, we use Microsoft Teams for our office meetings. But we also use Zoom, Cisco WebEx, and Google Hangouts for other events. It is worth the time and effort to study how to use these platforms. You need this working knowledge so that you can participate effectively in the conversation by sharing presentations, raising your hands or posting a comment or question, and, avoid creating unnecessary problems like audio feedback because you failed to mute your audio.
Tip # 6: Develop the right habits
The previous tips were mostly on how to handle the tech side of things. But what really matters is what you actually do on the calls. The first, and perhaps most important task is learning how to listen effectively in a video conference setting. I focus my mind by taking down notes – by hand, on a notebook or clipboard. Very analog, but scientifically proven to be effective. I use my laptop to Google bits of interesting info that come up during the conversation. People in a videoconference call usually speak at a level louder than usual. That can be quite tiring for you and the people listening. I suggest that you gradually modulate your voice so that you speak in a more relaxed tone. It’s warmer and less taxing for everyone. Brevity is a virtue. If you are making a presentation, tell people what are your key points. Go through them quickly and then wrap up. The effort of doing this makes you think more clearly. In my experience, two hours is about as long as you can go with videoconference meetings. The shorter, the better.