Video conferencing has been around for many years, but the COVID pandemic has increased market adoption into the business and consumer mainstream forever.
As much as virtual meetings enable us to remain connected and communicate remotely, there are good and bad online meetings and presentations.
To increase the production quality and help you improve your next video conference performance (and your personal brand), we’ve put together the following tips.
“Quality Matters”, and even a slight improvement can make a difference.
Scott Maxworthy, CEO, Max Media and Entertainment
The key point – “Quality Matters”, and even a slight improvement can make a difference.
The Audience Experience
The role of the Producer – in this case, you – is to make it easier for your viewer to consume your content.
If you go to a conference or show and can’t see or hear the speaker, you would probably feel frustrated, but what takes priority in your production checklist – audio, video or something else?
The Answer – It depends – if you’re watching a high action football or computer game, then probably the video matters most BUT, if watching a band or a speaker, then audio takes priority. When it comes to video conferencing, audio matters most.
The key point is that your audience will forgive momentary poor video quality, but they won’t accept poor audio.
Find a quieter place and try and try and keep external noise to a minimum.
Point your mic at your mouth – not in it – and not two meters across the room.
Reverb is sound bouncing off walls – drapes can reduce room acoustic reflections.
Think of sound waves like ping pong balls projecting out in every direction.
We have drapes across the ceiling and walls to help absorb bouncing sound.
In a more expensive professional studio, the walls will include audio baffles, floating floors, and soundproof insulation.
The key point is that your audience will forgive momentary poor video quality, but they won’t accept poor audio.
You would think PC and phone suppliers would automatically put in good microphones and speakers in their devices, but they don’t – it would simply add too much to the base cost, and there are also physical limitations.
Like our eardrums, microphones work by responding to sound waves and changes in air pressure against a membrane and then converting that physical energy into electrical pulses.
At the other end of the audio signal flow, speakers do the opposite by converting electrical sound signals and vibrating the air around the speaker cone. Our incredible ears then convert those sounds into what we hear.
When it comes to livestream production, an external mic will nearly always be better than the one on your computer or phone.
The better and closer the microphone to your voice – the more accurate it can capture your original sound but not in your mouth.
Which mic? Live streamers often cite the Blue Yeti USB as the best pick. For around.USD $130 It is multi-mode- providing four microphone modes.
If you’re phone conferencing, then the Rode Video mic is our personal choice.
When recording for live streams, what you’re aiming for is an average audio signal around 0dB. Record too high “peaking” (for example, if you yell) will cause audio clipping. Too low, then there’s not enough dynamic range or energy in the signal.
Most conferencing software will have AGC (Automatic Gain Control), but the tip is to try and keep your distance to your mic and levels consistent so the computer doesn’t have to continually adjust.
We have mid-cost professional Rode NTG 3’s for our studio panellists in the Big Dog Studio – a beautiful capturing super-cardioid shotgun studio and video production microphone. The mics are positioned forward and above the presenters’ heads, pointing at their mouths and just outside the camera shot.
The mics feed into our trusty old Yamaha 01v digital mixer into our Audio Production PC for real-time audio processing.
We use Cantible software for real-time audio processing with VST Plugins, Cakewalk for any music MIDI/ Audio Sequencing and Adobe Audion for non-music production.
Next, I run a compressor on the signal and add some EQ to enhance the vocals before sending the signal via Voicemeeter Potato VLAN to the OBS Livestream production computer to be mixed with all the other inputs.
Further compression and EQ were added across the final mix before live streaming out and routing to our Zoom communications computer via NDI.
Generally, the more expensive, the better, but don’t go silly. You want to be able to hear and focus on the meeting and not hear any background noise. Noise cancellation makes a difference.
There are pros and cons to whether you select wired or wireless.
Not all headphones and speakers are the same, and every set of speakers/ monitors and headphones has a different audio response curve. However, professional audio monitors and headphones aim for flat responses to not colour or tone the signal. On the other hand, typical home speakers aim to enhance the signal.
Studio monitors – a pair of old Yamaha NS10’s – mainly used for music production.
The instrument – Your Voice.
When good, your vocal tone has the power to communicate confidence and authority – when bad, monotone or hard to hear, then the opposite.
It’s not surprising that good singers and voice-over artists make for easier listening and good newsreaders, but even though we can’t all be professional singers, we can all improve the sound of our voices.
Deep Breathing – take deep breaths into your belly, not your chest.
Open your mouth – stretch exercises (like big yawns) before you go live.
When speaking, you need to open your mouth wider than you think. It sounds simple, but many people do not practice this and mumble.
Ground yourself – pressing your fingers tips together reduces body tension, or sit on your hands.
Alternatively, using your hands can come across as more energetic. If you naturally don’t gesture a lot, that’s ok. Instead, focus on relaxing your body.
Practice scales – “do re me fa, so la ti do” like the Sound of Music song. Adding more vocal range helps you to be more engaging and exciting to listen to. Go up and down, drop or raise an octave – read a poem or piece of prose. Start low, and then go high with your voice, then go low again.
Practice pacing – fast and slow – similar to the exercise above. Practice reading something reallyfastwithouttakingabreak and then reaalyyyy sloooowwwww.
Practice pause – give your listener time to absorb what you are saying, to frame their answer to what you said and the chance to reply.
Play with resonance. Low resonance makes us sound a bit more nasally (it’s the ‘a’ sound in ‘cat’). It’s great for cutting through the noise and getting people’s attention. High resonance is more rounded (think a British accent), making us sound warmer, comforting and approachable.
Practice your radio voice – record it, listen back and practice more.
Believe your voice deserves to be heard.
What you say
There’s a whole other blog on creating content and crafting your story for next time.
As both a Live Producer and Video / Podcast Editor, it’s the “Umms” and “Ahhhs” that are my biggest put off (and will cost you dollars when it comes to editing fees). It’s a bad habit by amateur presenters (usually while they’re thinking) and can be reduced by –
Being aware of it as a problem and deliberately stopping by keeping silent.
Preparation by having a well-rehearsed script and response – i.e. know the questions, practice your answers.
Think before you speak.
Choice of words – that’ll be in a future blog post.
Keep your comments short, simple, and to the point – don’t waffle on.
Your personality is key; that’s your voice and what makes you unique, but be aware of adding some space and know when to shut up.
Try and reduce any adlib until you become a more experienced speaker/ presenter.
There’s a mute button – use it when you’re not speaking in a conference call.
Position the camera at eye level – we don’t want to look up your nose. In addition, this position reduces any vertical background lines appearing to converge diagonally in the background.
You also don’t want the camera tilting at an angle – that will make your head look distorted and hands disproportionate.
Fill the frame – in most cases switch your phone to horizontal (unless the majority of your audience are on mobile).
Frame your shoulders and head with your nose on the upper third line. Again, moving your camera to eye level helps this.
Keep the camera still – put your camera on a small tripod on something to keep it sturdy and from moving around. Unless you’re selling real estate, this is not a walk around your house or office.
If your camera has different focal lengths, set it to the upper body – shoulders and face. Depending on the focal length, set your camera distance to ½ the space if you were meeting face to face – in most cases from your chest up with eyes on the upper third horizontal. A wide-angle lens can make you look like one of those Oompa Lumpas on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Try and look straight down the lens of the camera when your speaking. It can be challenging, but the aim is to create direct eye contact with your viewers.
Pick a webcam to match your video environment – for example – if filming primarily in low light, get a webcam with good low light filming. Resolution wise – live streaming 4K video is generally not supported (high bandwidth needs), so 1080p resolution will suffice for most needs.
In the Big Dog Studio
We use a 4K Logitech Brio for our webcam in the Big Dog office, but we also use it for in-house video capture.
On the production side, we use higher-end Panasonic 4K video cameras – these can simultaneously capture up to four hosts at 1080p resolution.
Good lighting is essential. We want to see your face and, most importantly, your eyes.
Place the main key light behind the camera. A large soft light such as a window will look more pleasing than a strong small light. The current FAVOURITE flavour is a beauty ring.
Without getting too technical – every light source has a different colour temperature. So set your camera to Automatic White Balance (AWB) or, if you can, match it to your primary light source.
The first blog post for this updated website – a new chapter in the time of Corona.
To look forward it helps to know where you’ve been and it’s hard for me to believe that it’s over 20 years since we got out of the pub, so many great memories and fun times bringing people together.
How times have changed!
Back in 1999 “social media” meant reading the paper at the bar. Tinder was stuff you put in the fire and streaming was what flowed down from the mountains.
Back then we were one of the first pubs (if not the first) in the country to have a website – we had news, an events calendar & offered our customers the ability to place orders via a form & pick up from the bottleshop (pictured above).
To surf the web required a dial-up connection. The user experience was clunky but little did we know how much things would change,
Fast forward to today, in self-isolation, I’ve been back working on our new website & it makes me appreciate how much technology has evolved over that time but yet, the human connection & customer experience is just as important today.