How do you run the best virtual meetings? How do you improve your virtual conference call quality? How do you up-level your remote work office meetings? We’ll cover all the ways to up-level your hybrid work conference call quality and how you can make your Zoom meeting, Teams meeting, Chime meeting or Google Meet meetings a success!

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DB Conf Call Thumbnail
Daniel’s Brew

According to this McKinsey Survey on Flexible Work, 58% of the American workforce is in some kind of remote or hybrid work scenario.

And according to the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index Report, the average employee spends 57% of their time in communication tasks — meaning virtual meetings, email, and chat.

Microsoft Work Trend Study Graphic
Source: MSFT Work Trend Index (May 2023)

These stats indicate that remote or hybrid work is here to stay, and given that we spend more than half of our time conferencing with each other, the audio and visual aspects of our communications have become more and more important in this new & changing landscape of corporate work.

How you show up in a Microsoft Teams or Zoom meeting now replaces the impression you would have given — if you were in a meeting room, sitting across the table from your colleagues. And especially when you are giving a presentation or a leading a customer pitch, having pristine video & audio quality, can actually add more weight and resonance to your words.

Exec in Sales Call
Source: StoryBlocks

It’s not just a nicety to have good conferencing quality anymore — in this day and age, it can actually affect your work performance and help you succeed in your career.

So it’s time to take your virtual meeting quality seriously and get started on up-leveling your video and audio production in your remote conferencing calls!

1) Camera Quality & Perspective

There are generally 3 commonalities in professional interviews or monologues on TV. 

Professional Film Crew Working
Photo by Lê Minh

First, the camera capture resolution is set at 1080p or above, nowadays typically 4k. Next, the footage is generally filmed in 24 frames per second, which provides that slightly cinematic look and feel to the image. And third, the subject is typically highlighted with a shallow depth of field.

In order to emulate this quality in your virtual meetings, you need the right type of equipment— like a DSLR or mirrorless camera. You have to have a high quality camera if you want a high quality image.

While there are plenty of high quality, professional grade cameras out there, like the Sony A7IV or Canon EOS R6, I’d recommend something a little bit older/cheaper, like the Sony A6400 or Sony A6100.

Sony A6400 Camera
Sony A6400

But regardless of what camera you buy, the important thing is that your camera be capable of the following 3 features: recording ability in full HD or 4k resolution, has a video display port (or even better, an HDMI port) and has real time auto-focus tracking.

Next, you’ll need a lens that can provide a wide angle view with a shallow depth of field, which gives you that soft, blurry background look.

If you look at camera lenses, you’ll want to pay attention to these two numbers: Focal Length (the lower the number, the more wide angle the camera’s view becomes…important if you have a small room) and F-Stop or Aperture (the smaller the number, the more blurry your background will become). 

Lens Dial
Green Arrow = Focal Length, Red Arrow = Aperture

For most rooms, I’d recommend a 24mm lens or lower. If you have the Sony A6400, this Sigma 16mm f1.4 lens makes a great combination. 

Additionally, if you’re on conference calls ALL DAY like I am, a single battery is certainly not going to last you. If you want to last a full 9–5 with your camera, you’ll want to get a Plug-In Battery that you can simply connect to a power outlet and sustain your camera for the full duration of your day.

2) Video Capture & Connection Settings

In our process, we are essentially taking our fancy DSLR or mirrorless camera and turning it into a webcam that your computer can access. And in order for your computer to access the signal, you either need special software in your camera’s operating system or you’ll need to buy a capture card, like the Elgato Cam Link 4k, that is specifically design to take your camera video feed and turn it into a webcam signal through the hardware.

Cam Link Dongle
Elgato Cam Link 4k

It’s very easy to use — just plug and play, as long as you make the following quick adjustments on your camera.

First, because this Cam Link device literally mirrors whatever you see on your camera LCD screen, onto your webcam feed, you’ll want to take steps to ensure that the video information that is typically shown on the LCD display is not replicated in the conference call image.

HDMI Info Display Screen
HDMI Info Display Setting on the Sony A6400

If you’re using the Sony A6400, you can easily do this by going into the menu, navigating to the HDMI info display setting and simply turning off this feature. (Other cameras brands will have a similar menu option for this.)

The second adjustment you’ll want to make, is to establish the resolution and frame rate of your video feed. As I mentioned before, you’ll want your feed to be at least 1080p in quality (preferably 4K in resolution), shot in 24 frames per second and have a shutter speed 1/50 — to get that professional, cinematic look.

3) Scene Establishment

The next step in our process is to find the proper location and set up the right backdrop for your virtual meetings.

Before we go any further, I do know that most conferencing software out there like Zoom or Microsoft Teams have fake background overlays that you can utilize during your virtual meetings. But these backgrounds are never perfect — depending on what you wear or what color your walls are, there’s always some kind of pixelation or cross fading that that occurs in the image. 

Zoom Pixelation
Pixelation on Zoom with Fake Background

Plus, if you’re going to go through all of this effort to uplevel your camera, it would be such a waste to simply use a virtual backdrop as your background. It would look far more professional for you to take a little bit of time and effort — and actually find or create a professional setting.

And it’s easy, just follow these 2 steps.

Separation Graphic
Separation is important for that blurry background effect

First, find a location where you can get some degree of separation from you and your actual backdrop — I’d recommend about 3 or 4 feet of distance. If you don’t have this distance, your camera lens won’t have enough room to create the blurring effect of the background, even if your aperture is as open as f1.4. So if possible, either move your desk away from your back wall or work in an area where you have a large degree of depth — like your living room or kitchen area.

Next, find an area that is not too cluttered but has some personal effects or practical lighting in the background that can provide some more color or dimension to your scene.

Background Example
Example of a scene with practical lighting in the background

But you don’t have to over complicate this step. Any location can be a great scene, as long as you have depth and proper lighting — which we’ll talk about next.

4) Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important elements when it comes to video production — even a bad camera can produce a somewhat decent video if the lighting is spot on.

While there are professional lighting techniques that TV and other film studios employ (I talk about this in my other article on video interviewing)— for our purposes, we really just need to keep in mind the following simple concepts.

First , we want to make sure you, the subject, is properly lit — meaning you are not over-exposed or under-exposed in the scene.

Over Exposed Image
Over-exposed scene
Under Exposed Image
Under-exposed scene

The way you do that is by turning off any sources of light that are shining directly behind you, and making sure that your main source of light is in front of you — at a slight angle, preferably about 45 degrees, so that your face and torso receive direct illumination. Then, either adjust up or down the light source so that you don’t look over-exposed (white) in the frame or too under-exposed (dark) and not visible to the other end.

It also helps to have a diffused or soft source of light, which is a light source that is large rather than narrow and has some sort of filtering or cover on it. You can buy a cheap studio soft box kit or simply use a lamp you have around the house — as long as the light is not directly shining into your face.

Not direct sunlight, but ambient daylight is also naturally soft — so if you are by a window and the sun is not directly shining into it, this would be a really good source of light.

DB by Window
Natural, ambient daylight is a nice source of soft light

Secondly, you’ll want to check and see if you have the right white balance in your camera for your scene. Without getting too technical — your camera bases it’s color template off of what it considers to be “white” in the scene. But if the basis of that “white” is off — maybe because of the color temperature of the light sources in the setting, then the camera might create some unsightly blue, orange, or even green color casts into the video.

The way to remedy this is to get a cheap white balance card from Amazon and simply establish the white color in your camera settings. Here’s how you do it.

White Balance Card
White Balance Card

Set up the card in your scene to about where your head would be. Then, point the camera at the card, and in the menu system go to the white balance option and select custom setting. This will cause the camera to take a picture and calibrate the white balance setting, to what the card’s color temperature is.

Wht Balance Menu
White Balance Setting in the Sony A6400

And there you go — if you keep those settings, the scene should now have the right color balance reflected. And, of course, I’m using my Sony camera in these images, but just about any DSLR or mirrorless camera should have this white balance adjustment setting in their menus.

5) Audio

This one is a fairly simply one to address. For most people, when they conduct virtual meetings — they simply use the microphone array that is attached to their laptops. But to have a cleaner, more robust sounding audio, you really need a separate, dedicated microphone that is closer to the source — in this case, your voice.

Almost any separate audio capture device will be better than the laptop mic — even a pair of cheap Amazon earbuds.

But if you really want crisp and pristine audio, I’d recommend an actual stand-alone microphone — like this Shure MV7 podcast mic.

Shure MV7 Mic
Shure MV7 Podcast Mic

While it is professional grade and has an XLR output for those that are serious with their audio production, this particular mic also comes with a USB connection as well — so you can simply plug it into your PC and utilize it right out of the box. Shure also has a companion desktop app that you can download, which allows you to fine-tune your audio signal as it runs through the mic — which is a powerful tool that can enhance your voice.

One last thing about audio. If you happen to be in a tight room, you might face the issue of your voice echoing against the walls of your room. This might create a slightly hollow sounding voice in your virtual meetings. It’d be a shame to do all this work to improve your video production — only to sound empty and hollow in your calls.

To counteract this effect, simply line the wall you are facing with a few sound absorbing foam panels to reduce the reverberation in the room.

And there you go — your audio should now be as pristine as your video.

Man in Virtual Call
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator

And that’s it — as you can see, it’s not terribly hard to become proficient enough in video and audio production to produce a high quality feed in your virtual meetings. 

I hope these tips lead you to up-level your remote meetings and it helps you in your virtual/hybrid conferencing!

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The content here is strictly the opinion of Daniel’s Brew and is for entertainment purposes only. It should not be considered professional financial, investment, or career advice. Investing and career decisions are personal choices that each individual must make for themselves in accordance with their situation and long term plans. Daniel’s Brew will not be held liable for any outcome as a result of anyone following the opinions provided in this content.

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