Advice for video conferencing?
April 30, 2020 6:48 AM   Subscribe

We want to have a meeting via internet with four or five people, MacBook and Windows machines and a variety of browsers. We've never done this before. Any advice is appreciated. Such as: What is the best platform for this? What problems may come up? How to lead/facilitate the meeting? Etc. — Thanks
posted by partner to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Zoom is pretty popular for a reason - it's relatively easy to use and performs well across many different devices and platforms (laptops, mobile, etc). One person should set up account and act as the host. That person can then schedule or kick off a meeting, which can generate a link (or full blown email) that can be sent to the recipients. The recipients do not need Zoom accounts, by the way. They only need the meeting ID and password to join.

Couple of quick tips:

- If possible, favor the use of hardwired ethernet connections. Doing Zoom over wifi works, but any delay or latency translates into laggy video or robotic-sounding audio. This doesn't seem to affect people using Zoom from phones or tablets.
- It's a good practice for everyone who's not talking to mute their audio. If you're in "highlight speaker" mode, where the speaker's face is all big on the screen, any extraneous noise will move the spotlight to whoever coughed or fidgeted, which can be annoying.
- Make sure your meeting is password protected, or you risk some rando joining and causing mischief.
- Expect a fair amount of adjustments/tweaking across the board during the first meeting as people re-discover their audio settings, microphone restrictions, and so on. The second meeting will go great.
- For most laptops, an external camera will deliver a better picture, but they're in short supply these days.
posted by jquinby at 6:58 AM on April 30, 2020

yes, zoom is pretty easy. Their website has lots of training videos that show you the basics of running a meeting.

Best practices currently to avoid hacking include using waiting rooms and passwords.

We did a couple of very short trial meetings to make sure everyone had a decent connection and could see and hear.
posted by domino at 7:08 AM on April 30, 2020

I like Zoom a lot. One caveat--If you're using the free version, it limits your meeting to 40 minutes.
posted by pangolin party at 7:16 AM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depending on your timing and your attendees feelings about Facebook, the new Messenger Rooms capability may be another alternative to consider. It looks like they're going for the casual user.
posted by elmay at 7:42 AM on April 30, 2020

Zoom lifted the 40 minute restriction for free meetings for the time being. I just hosted a two hour meeting on my free account on Tuesday.

It also lets you test your audio and video before joining, so that you don’t waste meeting time re-enacting Verizon commercials from 2001.

The other one I’ve used has been Google Hangouts. I haven’t led those, but regardless, I like Zoom better.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:51 AM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I tried Google Meet last night. It came across like many Google Projects - some nuggets of good ideas but marred by a bad user interface and lack of quality control. For no obvious reason, trying to share one game via screen sharing caused Chrome to crash every time. Getting a link to share with other people was way less intuitive than Zoom or WebEx as was switching up the layout.

On the plus side, on computers, it doesn't require installing anything and within my friends group, basically everyone has Hangouts installed already, so that was a plus. The audio and video were fine enough.

How to lead/facilitate the meeting?

If there's a presentation, have everyone on mute other than the presenter. Most of the platforms let you press and hold the space bar to temporarily unmute yourself - not having extraneous background noises (especially with pets and kids) going while you're presenting is really nice.

If you've never done this before, I recommend doing a pre-meeting-meeting just to test the audio and video from everyone, just so no one's stressed out from fighting technology at the beginning of the real thing.
posted by Candleman at 8:38 AM on April 30, 2020

We've been happy using Jitsi; it's more privacy-focused than Zoom, which has issues as you've probably read.
posted by anadem at 9:05 AM on April 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

For hosting, it's a good idea to make some practice calls with a friend. Essential tips for good hosting, whether informal or for business:
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts for Mute: for other attendees with too much background noise, and Mute All for the same reason
  • Learn how to lock the meeting to keep out unwanted visitors; Zoombombing is a thing
  • Learn how to quickly eject unwanted attendees for that reason
  • If mics are on, give visual feedback with nods and thumbs-up when you can, instead of saying "Yeah" or "Uh huh", forcing the conference software to jump among speakers
  • If you're using a phone, get some kind of stand for it to hold it steady
  • Get that dang laptop or phone up to eye level - no one wants to look up your nose
  • Sit facing the light source, window, whatever. If you're backlit, your image will be poor
To pick among some of the leading videoconferencing "solutions," I'd suggest checking this article, which examines several other options too. It's aimed at journalists, so there's an emphasis on security, which is a good thing. Lots of the groups I'm in use Zoom - it's popular for a reason: pretty easy to use and it seems climbing the learning curve is pretty easy. I know lots of newbies both young and old who've gotten comfortable with it relatively quickly. You can record the meetings too, if you want. Zoom is struggling to make security better, but it's an evolving issue for them and their users.

My limited experience with Google Hangouts was not great, and I don't like that every participant has to have a Google account. (Google makes me feel almost as unclean as Facebook does. Eccchh.)

I was surprised when I read it the article that anyone can create a free Microsoft Teams account. I used that at my former employer and it was pretty solid. I'm going to try testing some of my groups with it. The free level doesn't allow recording though. For some reason, to me Microsoft is somehow less Evil™ than Google or Facebook; YMMV. From the MS Teams FAQ:

Is Teams really free?
Yes! The free version of Teams includes the following:
  • Unlimited chat messages and search.
  • Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, groups, and full team meetups.
  • 10 GB of team file storage plus 2 GB per person for personal storage.
  • Integrated real-time content creation with Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
  • Unlimited app integrations with 250+ business apps to choose from, including Adobe, Evernote, and Trello.
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization, backed by Microsoft’s secure, global infrastructure.
Will my account expire?
  • No, your account will not expire.
Good luck and happy calling.
posted by conscious matter at 9:28 AM on April 30, 2020

One more suggestion that I don't think has been floated is to encourage people to use headphones instead of speakers to avoid echoes.
posted by quaking fajita at 10:20 AM on April 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

All good advice. One more thing. Plan B. Have a designated way for people to contact the host or other callers if the connection drops, something goes wrong, they leave by mistake, etc. Choose one, single mode like email, text, FB message, etc. Otherwise people may flail around trying to get back in and the host may flail around checking all modes of communication.
posted by Gotanda at 4:20 PM on April 30, 2020

I'm not sure of the technical details but even with fairly small groups it helps if there is someone other than the presenter with host privileges that can let people in from the waiting room, monitor who has a question and mute and unmute microphones so the presenter can focus on talking.
posted by metahawk at 5:46 PM on April 30, 2020

All the teachers I know are bummed that we’re not supposed to use Zoom anymore. I don’t know enough to validate the security concerns (sadly nor do I have that much confidence in the upper management to do so either), but it was far and away the easiest and nose useful application for our (diverse) purposes and uses.

Microsoft Teams was a nightmare in a meeting full of adults.

Google Meets is ok but lacking some key things (muting participants is not possible, you need an app for a tablet or phone, you can’t manage who can present their screen and when, can’t see more than 16 participants and they choose who you can see, etc). But it’s been better than Teams for actually getting everyone into (and out of) the same virtual room and chat at about the same time.

Sigh. Zoom :( please get it together!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:32 AM on May 2, 2020

« Older Printer copier that isn't going to lock me into...   |   Are protein powders bullshit? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.