5 tips for better online teaching (and meetings)

Espen Andersen

How to engage participants and get your message across in videoconferences.

1. Sound is more important than picture

Your colleagues and students know what your face looks like. Focus on sound quality, rather than getting the picture just right. Pay attention to the ambient sound in the room where you record. Fans and other squeaky things can be very annoying. Headphones can make you look a little dorky, but if you are in a noisy environment, they can improve sound quality significantly.

The only way to find out what your sound quality is like is to record yourself. Experiment with your phone, your laptop and other available devices to find the best one.

2. Background, lights, clothing

The background should not draw attention away from you. For example, dark cloth is excellent.

You should light up your face so that facial expressions are visible. Ideally light should come from three sources: From the centre, from the side and a little from above.

Whatever you do, never set yourself up with a window in the background. If you do, light will come from behind you and you will look like a police informant or member of the mafia in a TV interview. The ‘dark shadow’ is not a good look.

Wear solid colours. No dramatic patterns, nothing that draws attention to itself, no brightly coloured ties. People will focus on this and pay less attention to you. Stripes can create a vibrating effect (a moiré pattern) that may be uncomfortable to look at.

5 tips for better video conferences

3. Look into the camera

When you videoconference it is easy to look at the other participants on your screen. This will make you look unengaged, because people engage each other by looking into each other’s eyes. Find the camera and look into that.

Getting used to this takes some practice. The payoff is that participants will feel your focus is on them, rather than on a script off screen or like you are simply going through the motions.

4. be lively

It is hard to pay attention to a video for a long time. When we talk face to face we react to what people say, we laugh, crack jokes and so on. This is much more difficult to do in a video setting and you have to make a conscious effort to be lively.

Gesticulate with your hands, make pauses and use facial expressions to dramatize what you are saying. In short, over communicate. The video consumes energy, which you have to compensate for.

Come as close to the camera as you feel comfortable coming, and then a little closer. This commands attention and helps get your message across. Remember, the people seeing you may be looking at a very small picture next to the slide you are sharing.

5. Preparation and practice makes perfect

You cannot just show up and behave the same way you would for a normal lecture, conference or meeting. You have to adapt both the script, what you do and the format of the message.

This takes training. Make yourself familiar with the tool you use, it is very distracting and signals incompetence when the speaker does not know which buttons to click or what to do.

Tools like Zoom, Adobe Connect and others are easily available, but you need to learn how to use them – things like muting your microphone, transferring control to another participant, sharing the screen or a video, or reading and responding to chat messages. The only way to learn this is make yourself comfortable with the technology through practice. Learning while conferencing is not a good way to do it!

Published 14. March 2020

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