Hey there. My name is Patrick and I’m the new Executive Director of Entrepreneurship here at Towson University. I started at TU in late January and had a chance to meet a lot of faculty, staff, and students. And, well, now here we are in an unprecedented time.
Part of what we do in entrepreneurship is storytelling and presenting. The two most important variables in entrepreneurship are building and selling. To sell you have to hold the attention of your audience, you need to have a good story and it needs to be presented well. An entrepreneur is almost always selling. You’re selling to clients. You’re selling to investors. You’re selling to employees. You’re selling to your board of directors. To that end I would like to offer everyone some tips for effective and engaging online video conferencing. So please join me in a journey in my just-moved-into Maryland house as I show you effective techniques for video conferencing.
The three big rules to remember are lighting, camera placement, and background.
If there is anything you should take from this, it’s that lighting matters. Our students are the Instagram generation. They spend hours waiting for the lighting to be just right for that one photo. For video conferencing you want to ensure you have good lighting. Play around with your lights and find what is best, it often is not from the top as that will cast shadows. Side and lighting from below are often best. PRO TIP: Try putting a lamp below you.
When it comes to video conferencing you want your camera placement to be eye level. I’m sure most of us are using the camera in our laptops. That is fine and perfectly sufficient. However, if your laptop is on your desk it won’t be eye level. There are a myriad of laptop stands that bring your laptop to eye level and give it needed ventilation. PRO TIP: Go classic and stack books under your laptop to raise it to eye level.
The background, which everyone sees, will often be the most discussed item. We’re inviting people into our homes and while there is a time to showcase your china collection, a video conference isn’t that time. Why? Because your china collection will become the focal point and attendees won’t listen to whatever point you’re trying to convey. We need to hold people’s attention and loud backgrounds are a challenge. PRO TIP: A bureau in the background is better than a bed.
More Pro Tips for Video Conferencing
Get to know your mute button. It’s simple. If you’re not talking hit the mute button. When you shift around or type on your keyboard everyone hears it and it detracts everyone’s attention. Don’t be afraid to remind others to mute.
Your students might not be present. Just because you see your students, doesn’t mean they are attending. As the proverb goes: necessity is the mother of innovation. Our colleague Matthew Durington, director for community engagement and partnerships, shared with me a story about students creating a video loop to make it appear they were attending and engaged. Clever.
Here is a simple and fun way to ensure your students are partaking in your class. At some random point stop and say, “OK, on the count of three we’re all gonna do spirit fingers.” Watch to see who doesn’t do spirit fingers. Anyone not doing spirit fingers is on a video loop. It’s effective and it breaks up the monotony for you and them (I have a daughter who is a freshman at UCONN and she is nonplussed by her new reality of distance learning).
Clean your lens. Ah, the ever so slightly diffused lens. It’s what makes Robert Redford and the Real Housewives of BRAVO look so young. The light has an effervescent glow . . . yea, you’re not Spielberg. Clean your lens! A lens with smudges is a tool for detraction.
Make it an experience. You might have noticed in our examples my T shirt game was strong. It’s OK to make the environment meet your needs. Bring something new to the event. This is our realty for a while.
We got this, Tigers!!!!!!
Seth Meyers recorded Late Night from inside his house and he found the most effective light was . . . in a hallway. Trevor Noah is doing the Daily Show from his well-appointed NYC condo (and even with his great background everyone is asking about the globes behind him). Every morning when I watch the news most of the guests are conversing via video conference from their home.
With our move to an online existence we have the opportunity to create the TU community in new and innovative ways, to adapt pedagogy, and to virtually meet our students and colleagues where they are. If you sometimes feel daunted or disconnected, that’s to be expected. Contact friends and family, your colleagues, and me. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether it’s through video conferencing in the coming weeks or in person in the coming months, I look forward to meeting more of you. The faculty and staff of Towson University are truly phenomenal.