Improving webex experience
January 21, 2013 2:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for tips and recommendations to improve the audio/video quality of online meetings. We already have good connections/machines for online meetings - but as I'm doing more and more of those, I'd like to specifically improve experience of everyone - especially for sound & video.

For the video, the main issues I have are :
- Lack of lighting
- Unwillingness to show the background behind me (if I'm working from home, I don't always have a good spot with a white background)
- Generally I tend to be to close to the camera

For the audio, it's more about: what can get me the best sound quality, while not being overly dependent on my movements (currently I'm using headphones, but the sound quality vary a lot if I wiggle the cord that contains the tiny microphone)

Ideally, I'd like to find a portable solution, so I could set up a good 'online meeting' environment fairly easily anywhere.

I'd appreciate all kinds of recommendations, both for hardware, software and general tips about how to make the most of those meetings.
posted by motdiem2 to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Personally I think the webcam is overrated. What's so great about looking at YOU? What are you doing that's so engaging?

If you are collaborating, then use a collaboration tool that allows each participant to add his or her own input. (I've never seen one used well, to be honest.)

If you are teaching, then you should share a PowerPoint deck with your audience. If you have nothing visual to share, you should have an audio-conference call and not a WebEx.

As for sound, a good headphone won't make a lot of noise or fade in and out while you are talking.

Plantronics is the gold standard for headphones. I have an over the ear jobbie, with a small mic and it works perfectly.

The problem with webcam, or any video conference is refreshing of the screen. The less you move, the less there is to refresh, and the better the picture quality is.

I sold high-end video-conferencing equipment (PictureTel, Polycom, etc.) and as I said before, the wonderful thing about WebEx is the ability to share documents, not your face.

Perhaps if you could expand more on what you are attempting to do with these meetings. Are they training, collaboration or simply regular give and take, more guidance can be given.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi, Thanks for your feedback.

As much as I admit hating to show my face over the webcam, in this case it serves me well, mostly for one purpose : most of the people I'm interacting with are from different countries and cultures - and the visual gives me more hints as to what they are meaning: I've had audio conferences with people where I couldn't make out or understand what they were saying, and switching to video helped add more context - in short: when I see someone speaking broken english, I have a better chance of understanding them.

What am I doing with those meetings :
- Teaching : in this case, it is important for me to see the people just to make sure they're still engaged - I think it's more engaging to them to see me speak along the slides/screensharing as well.
- Negociating : I've been doing more of that, either negociating during projects, or to help finalize a contract - here video helps me make my intentions more clear, as well as figuring out what mood the people I'm talking to are in.

Overall, I'm happy that webex and such exists - otherwise, I wouldn't be able to do my job. But I'm thinking now that I rely on such tools more and more, how can I make sure to make the experience more pleasant for me and for all attendees.

Hope this clarifies a bit my question
posted by motdiem2 at 6:37 AM on January 21, 2013

Best answer: Ah,

In that case, I suggest using some tools to help people stay engaged.

Polling for example, can be a way of gauging how effective what you are teaching is coming across.

After you've finished a segment of your training, use the poll as a way to gain feedback and/or test your students.

Here are some general guidelines for video-conferencing:

A plain blue background is the most flattering.

Do not wear white, striped, plaid or densely patterned shirts. A solid color, preferably blue will be the most flattering on video.

Don't move the camera and keep your movements small, controlled and slow.

At the begining of the call, go over your agenda, and show folks how to use the "raise your hand" feature in WebEX. This way people can ask a question during your presentation. You may want to have a short Q and A session after each lesson-point, to insure that everyone is following you and to be sure that folks are actually understanding what you are saying.

Check out the tools available and brainstorm for ways to use them to improve your classes.

The more you know, the better it is!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: - Hang a sheet behind you to provide a consistent backdrop
- get a high quality USB microphone (eg: Blue Yeti)
- Use a headset for listening only
- small desk lamps not aimed directly at you can provide decent lighting.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:23 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are you using WebEx in trainer mode? That allows you to see when people put the Webex screen to the background to multitask. If you have a lot of people defecting to do other work, it's time to figure out why (are they lost and have given up or have they got it and they're bored).

From your description, the video is for your benefit not the student's. With that in mind, I'd just hang a neutral background and be done.
posted by 26.2 at 9:19 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use a folding screen like this to provide a neutral background and hide the mess that is the rest of my office. Here is a nice little tutorial on how to improve your lighting situation cheaply and easily.
posted by platinum at 11:26 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

blue_beetle has really good advice about USB microphones.

Normally with WebEx I use the dial in number for the audio portion instead of using the computer for audio. The dial in number has much better sound quality. If you're going to use the computer for audio, you really should get a USB headset with a mic. Admittedly, they aren't glamorous but they are so much better for audio quality.
posted by 26.2 at 2:21 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great advice !

I think upgrading the microphone and optimizing the lighting (that strobist tutorial is relally nice) will do wonders.
posted by motdiem2 at 8:09 AM on January 22, 2013

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