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How to get the best out of video conferencing?

In this blog, Dr Harry Brown looks at the best video conferencing platforms for work and play, and discusses the importance of good etiquette on video calls.

Video conferencing has been around for some time but often the hardware and software was expensive. More recently, in particular due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of working from home, video conferencing use has exploded. Video meetings either from the place of work or from home are so much simpler to organise, participate and technically relatively easy to do.

There is a myriad of software now available for a large number of hardware devices we are already likely to own or have easy access to. Even better, it is not necessary to have an expensive dedicated hardware device for the sole use of video conferencing.

Video conferencing is now commonly available for free for both national and international use from multiple sources. It is not simply used for work purposes but for social and group gatherings and the quality is usually very good. This activity is now mainstream and alternative solutions are still coming onto the marketplace.

Good practice and etiquette on video calls

Most of these good practice suggestions are obvious but worth mentioning as it is easy to overlook or not appreciate the impact. Ideally mute yourself and remember to switch on your microphone prior to speaking. Also keep your video switched on if possible as it shows interest in what is happening.

It is easy to appear “absent” when videos and microphones are permanently off (though sometimes that is appropriate) and you will look more committed to and engaged with the meeting with a live video feed and the occasional audio contribution. Remember to mute other nearby electronic devices to stop them going off during the meeting.

Sit a little back from the camera to give a better and more flattering perspective and dress appropriately. Be prepared for the meeting, have any relevant documents to hand and try to log in slightly early so you appear on schedule and if there are technical problems you have time to fix them. Remember to look at your background and make sure it is appropriate and check that the area that is in broadcast view, is neat and tidy. Finally, if you are using a mobile device or laptop, ideally you should use a wired electrical charging connection as batteries can drain quickly on long conference calls. For more information read these tips and hacks.

Best platforms for video conferencing

Consumer software such as Facetime, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have excellent audio and video features, are simple to use, widely available and are free of charge. They can also support relatively large numbers of people taking part in a meeting.

However for work purposes, you might need more sophisticated software that can cope with facilities such as recording the meeting for future use, screen sharing, chat function and high quality video and audio. Also some people like to choose their own virtual backgrounds or blur the background. But also remember security is important both from within the software (the popular ones usually have reliable in-house security) and who has access to the legitimate entry codes. For that reason, advertising login codes for video conferencing meetings should generally speaking be kept within a defined user community and not advertised on social media, unless there is a good reason.

For business purposes, the two major ones are Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Their free facilities, size of audience and other facilities vary from no charge (for example the free version of zoom is restricted to 40 minutes and a maximum of 100 people) to a pricing plan but often the free versions may suffice for some people.

There are some fresh alternatives around that are also easy to use. Jitsi Meet is free and can allow video meets with no restrictions on time use. It will probably allow up to 100 people to join before the video quality degrades. So, I would guess for most readers of this column that should satisfy most people’s needs. Interestingly, and I suspect this could enhance its popularity, no additional software is needed other than a standard web browser.

A URL is generated by the administrator from the home page (easy to do) and it can be transmitted to your users by email, text, WhatsApp or any other messaging software. They simply click on and join the meeting with their nominated web browser without the need of any other downloads, software or tweaks. However, this service shows that there is room on the block for another offering and this system is simple and effective to use.

People also often forget about Skype but as well as offering free video calls (okay up to 24 hours for up to 100 people!),  if you are a user of Microsoft 365 then you get 60 minutes of free landline and mobile calls to a number of countries via Skype.

Finally, since it is all the rage, you might ask Artificial Intelligence for advice about video conferencing tips rather than a standard search engine. I have tried and I did obtain some useful information. So in the next article, I will look at the rise of Artificial Intelligence. See you then!

Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds and medical editor of Pavilion Health Today


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