Remote presenting – beware the technology!

We asked Octopus partner, journalist and media training expert Guy Clapperton for some tips about presenting via video during lockdown, these are his top tips.

If lockdown had happened 15 years ago many people would have had a very different experience. There was broadband but it wasn’t universal or as reliable as it is now. Video conferencing was something people knew in theory would probably happen but it wasn’t commonplace and on the entertainment side, video on demand was in its early stages.

Technology has done a lot for us. There are ways, though, of using it judiciously and making sure you don’t get too carried away with it. For this blog entry I’m going to assume a couple of things: first that you have a reasonably current laptop and second that you need to present and appear relatively impressive rather than just attend a meeting.

So here are some tips:

  • For day to day meetings the camera and microphone on your laptop will be fine and as long as it’s reasonably tidy your home is fine as a background. However…

  • If you’re presenting a lot, an upgrade can make a powerful difference. First, the camera. People will be looking at you and an out of focus or dull image will be offputting. Several USB webcams can touch up your appearance (just tick the box), zoom in, zoom out and importantly will enhance the image in poor lighting conditions.
  • Speaking of lighting, you might strike it lucky and be facing a window and do all your meetings in daylight. Or you might consider spending a small amount on a “halo light” (check various online retailers) which you can control and play with to make you look better.

  • Almost finally on vision there’s the issue of whether to opt for a green screen. In many cases nobody cares whether your bookcase is visible behind you. If, however, some bright spark in your family has decided that your home office is the very place to stow all the stuff that would normally have gone to a charity shop and you can’t disguise it, this could be a good time to invest in a green screen. Some online conferencing platforms offer a virtual background without a green screen but these always look bad if you move about. If you use a green screen check your lighting again. The better you’re lit, the more solid you’ll look.

“The better you’re lit, the more solid you’ll look”

  • In terms of what to put in the screen, many people use the stock images and pretend they are on a beach, in space or whatever. This is great if you’re chatting to friends but for business it can be jarring; if you take a blank PowerPoint slide, fill it with a block of your corporate colour, maybe pop your logo in the corner and save it as a jPeg, you’ll find this makes an excellent simple backdrop. Oh, and if your company is one of those that doesn’t like Zoom, your options for virtual backgrounds are limited as I type as other platforms don’t have the option (you can blur everything bar your face in Microsoft Teams) – but they’re all upgrading and evolving the whole time.

  • Even more important is the sound. You can’t be responsible for the speakers on your audience’s systems so the better the sound that leaves your computer the better chance it stands of being comprehensible. An external mic is therefore a really good idea – AFTER you’ve checked that there isn’t already a brilliant mic built in to the webcam you’ve just bought after reading to this point! Many excellent mics are connected really easily with USB (you might want to look at a USB adapter so you can connect many devices).
  • If you know what you’re doing you can also obtain a small mixing desk. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t assume there will be time to learn (I’ve got this friend who wasted some money there).
  • Look also at what’s around the mic. I have a cast-iron sit/stand desk which is great until you have sound bouncing around it and adding unwanted echo (if I wanted to sound as if I were recording in a bathroom I’d just do so). Cushions, duvets, blankets, towels will dampen the reverberation. They will also look terrible so if that’s important to you, look at acoustic panels which can be obtained reasonably inexpensively. Your other half will love it when one of your rooms basically turns into a sound studio.
  • Beware of unnecessary expenditure. I bought an “arm” for my mic, to attach it to the desk. It had two drawbacks; first the arm was metal so the reverberation actually increased and second the mic was too heavy so the whole arm fell off the desk. Noisily. At 2am one evening.

“Beware of unnecessary expenditure” 

  • Finally and I hope obviously, don’t let any of this get in the way of good content. The technology is there to help; choose the right bits judiciously and make sure your set-up is secure (so don’t let people into a Zoom meeting without putting them in a waiting room first and if you have a personal meeting space in cyberspace don’t put it online for just anyone to see) – the rest will improve and enhance but it’s trimmings and no substitute for a solid presentation.

Good luck!