While setting up a desktop computer for videoconferencing is relatively easy to accomplish, the information below offers guidelines that will help to ensure a smooth, problem-free experience.
Before purchasing any additional items, make sure you are using a computer with the latest operating system which has been thoroughly updated. In addition, you will need to make sure you have a reliable, high-speed internet connection and the latest version of the web browser of your choosing. Make a note of your computer's processing speed, graphics and sound cards, RAM memory, and hard drive space and bring this information with you when making any purchases to insure they will work on your system.
In order to participate in a videoconference you will need a web cam. Many newer computers come with built-in webcams; however, if you do not already have one, you will need to purchase it. Prices for webcams range from about $15 up to $100 or more. For most users, a basic or mid-range model will work.
While many webcams have a built-in microphone and most computers have speakers, the risk of producing feedback makes the use of these items less than desirable. For this reason, a headset with a built-in microphone is recommended to insure the best audio quality and to eliminate the possibility of feedback. LIke webcams, headsets with built-in microphones can be purchased for a small price, and a model priced in the mid-range will be sufficient for this purpose.
There are many video conferencing packages available, such as Skype, Oovoo, or Tango, and you are likely to encounter people who use one of those systems exclusively. However, here at Iowa State, IT Services has purchased a site license for Zoom and makes it available to anyone with a Net-ID. This is currently the only centrally-supported system, although some colleges do have licenses for other software.
Most videoconferencing software requires you to create an account to use the service, so if you have contacts with people on many different systems, you'll want to create an account with each of them and share that information ahead of time so that you can connect easily.
Zoom is somewhat different in that you don't need to set up an account to join a meeting and you don't need to be on a contact list in order to connect with another user. You simply send out a link to the meeting and the other person clicks on it to join. You do need a Zoom account in order to host a meeting. (See the Video & Web Conferencing page for more details.)
Test Before Using
Similar to giving a presentation in person, it is best to practice with the videoconferencing system you have set up before actually engaging in a conference with others. If you have access to two computers with the same videoconferencing software installed on each, you may want to arrange the machines so you can see both screens and establish a connection between both systems so that you can see how you and any materials you may want to share will appear on the remote computer.
Beware of the "gaze angle."
The gaze angle refers to the difference between the angle of your camera and your gaze. Gaze angles can be reduced by putting the camera near or on your display monitor. In most cases, this will be near the window where your videoconferencing software appears on your screen. Proper positioning of the camera helps to insure that you appear to be looking at the other participants, rather than off to the side to see what is on your computer screen.
Maintain eye contact.
During a videoconference, it is easy to get carried away with the topic being discussed, especially if you are sharing documents. Just like having a conversation in person, it is best to take occasional breaks from the material and look up at the camera in order to maintain eye contact with your audience.
Turn on the lights.
If there is a light behind you, it may cause your face to appear dark, a problem commonly referred to as backlighting. Similarly, when you have only one light source located on one side, your face may appear to be in the shadows. To avoid both of these situations, make sure the area you will be using is well lit. It helps to check out your image in advance and adjust the lighting as necessary. The addition of a desk lamp in front of your face just behind the monitor will usually help eliminate backlighting and shadows.
Wear proper clothing.
Similar to TV, clothes used when videoconferencing need to be considered. Muted solid colors, like pale blues and yellows work best when presenting in front of a camera. It is best to avoid bright whites, as they tend to look "hot" or shimmery. If you are making a formal presentation, it is also advisable to avoid contrasting patterns such as stripes or checkerd prints, which can end up looking jagged and appear to jump around on the screen.
When videoconferencing, it is best to try slow down your natural movements and use slow, smooth gestures to avoid appearing jumpy.