Video Conference Fails: 5 Ways to Avoid Looking Foolish on Video

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Avoid video conferencing fails by testing your equipment

As much as we’d rather not admit it, there are many ways for a video conference to go wrong. Especially if your equipment is untested or your network unreliable, it’s easy to end up as part of a “video conference fail.” There are all kinds of causes for this sort of embarrassment. Maybe your connection is weak and has frozen your digital face in an unflattering contortion. Maybe your new microphone has twisted your voice into a cartoonish squeal. Or, it could be that you’ve left the room to your home office open and are currently being photo-bombed by a small child… as you all know can happen.

Video calling equipment and connections are improving with every passing year, so it’s harder than before to have major video calling issues. Still, there’s always a way to improve your video performance so you avoid distracting others on the call from the matter at hand.

5 Ways to Avoid a Video Conferencing Fail

Many of us have experienced the pain of having a video link drop out during a crucial meeting or being forced to wait in front of a blank screen as the connection fails to launch.

It’s not always technical gremlins at fault, either. This classic BBC interview highlights the need to be aware of your surroundings before launching any professional video call.

You don’t need expert advice to know it’s a good idea to lock the door before being interviewed on live television. Here, though, are five ways to avoid looking foolish on video that cover all the important lessons, from limiting the likelihood of technical glitches to making sure your tie is on straight.

  1. Stage a test run
  2. Lower your device demands
  3. Learn to love your own image
  4. Be aware of your surroundings
  5. Simplify, simplify, simplify 

The advice begins with the one tip we should all heed: practice.

1. Stage a Test Run

Practice makes perfect, but you don’t have to run through your entire presentation–or even make an actual call–in order to make sure things are operating as they should. Even free platforms like Skype offer pre-call diagnostics that let you make sure your webcam and audio are working. Similarly, you should be able to see a preview of your own chat window to get a look at how you will appear to your online audience.

For important calls, it may sometimes be worthwhile making an in-house call or a call to an external friendly face to check your connection. And just as you’d prep your slides or multimedia before a presentation at the office, you should run through your list of web links, video files, and plans for screen sharing before you take things public.

2. Lower Your Bandwidth

Thousands of packets of digital data are flowing in multiple directions every second you spend on a video call–these are what are being counted when we measure internet speeds in megabits per second. The live nature of a video call means your device can’t buffer this information and delay, resend, or rearrange it should it get slowed down on its journey, the way it can with web-based or static information such as a movie played via a streaming service.

You can reduce the burden on your devices and limit the chances of your connection dropping out by lowering the bandwidth and resolution settings. Stepping down from 1080p HD to 720p, for example, still leaves you with a clear image and can reduce your instance of packet loss (missing data) or jitter (data that arrives out of sequence).

Most of the leading video platforms let you switch between settings for just this reason, while a quality webcam and associated software also allow you to prioritize the smooth flow of visuals (framerate) over resolution.

If you’re mobile, then switching between wifi and network connections can also improve your signal performance. Some video calling platforms, such as Zoom and WhatsApp, will even adjust the quality of the call based on your internet connection type and quality.

3. Learn to Love Your Own Image

Though many of us have a love/hate relationship with our live image on a video call, it can be a helpful way of monitoring what others are seeing. Checking in on the self-view camera feed every now and then keeps you centered within the frame and aware of any camera slips, unflattering angles, or other issues before they draw attention away from the actual subject of the call. We all get a little self-conscious seeing ourselves projected back us, but learning to trust that little window goes a long way toward keeping others’ attention on the presentation rather than the presenter.

4. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

As that unfortunate expert found out while being interviewed on BBC, it is important to be aware of your surroundings when making a live video call. From basic video conferencing room design decisions that boost acoustics, stabilize lighting, and eliminate unnecessary distractions to background replacement tech that focuses all the attention on you, there are many ways to present a clear video picture that doesn’t let your environment get in the way of your message.

5. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Both hardware- and software-focused video conferencing vendors are well aware that the continued growth of video conferencing depends on its accessibility as an everyday communications tool. As such they have introduced a range of software and hardware solutions that make launching, joining, and hosting meetings easier. Logitech teamed with Google, Microsoft and Zoom to create simple, touchscreen video conference control displays for meeting rooms that get you face-to-face quickly. Coupled with the USB and Bluetooth connectivity of today’s video conferencing cameras and the easy-to-use cloud-based software of the leading video platforms, it no longer takes an IT whiz to get online.

So, simplify your setup. Find a camera and platform combination that works for your home or office context and stick to it. Keep your contacts within single-tap reach, and maintain a consistent meeting location so you don’t have to adjust lighting, camera angles, and microphone position every time you sit down to chat. Video conferencing manufacturers are trying to make your life easier–but it’s a good idea to meet them halfway.

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