Personal and Small Business Technology

Crash Course in Virtual Meetings for the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing numerous community, religious, governmental and business organizations to go virtual literally overnight. Virtual meetings have been common in business for 20 years, but not for community, religious and governmental organizations. Within religious and community groups, there are many people who left the workforce before virtual meetings became popular and who don't have any experience using these tools.

Conferencing Tools

In preparing for virtual meetings, go ahead and install the most popular conferencing tools:

  • Install the Zoom.com client on your desktop and phone. This service is one of the few to offer a Linux client./li>
  • Install the Freeconferencecall.com client on your desktop and phone. This service is one of the few to offer a Linux client.
  • Install the WebEx.com client on your desktop and phone. The web interface works fine on Linux, but there is no client so hosting is a problem for Linux users.
  • Install the Google Hangouts app and Chrome extension. This is widely installed, but doesn't work well for larger groups, and is harder (if not impossible) for sharing presentations..
  • Install the Microsoft Skype app and desktop client.

Messaging and Collaboration Apps

For one-on-one or very small group collaboration, consider installing the following apps that are phone, tablet and desktop based:

Get a Good Microphone and Camera

Having a good microphone and camera can make video conferencing much more pleasant. Most laptop and phone cameras will work fine. Older computer cameras may be lower resolution or have autofocus problems. Unfortunately, as of March 20, 2020, most vendors are sold out of good mid-range webcams. Some dedicated cameras and camcorders can be connected to a computer but the procedures vary greatly depending upon device.

Set up Your Conferencing Space

Think about where you will do your conferences, and set up a place to do video conferences.

  • Make sure that you are in a quiet area; microphones do not tune out noise in the same way that our ears do, and this will drive the other participants nuts.
  • Pay attention to the background so that it is not distracting and does not cause problems for the autofocus on your laptop/computer camera. If there are lots of strong vertical and horizontal lines behind you, the camera autofocus may focus on them, and leave you blurry.
  • Make sure that you face is well lit...avoid putting a window or light in the background as this will turn you in to a silhouette.
  • Test your microphones and speakers to make sure that they don't cause feedback. If you will be doing a lot more video conferences, consider investing in a headset

Conference Etiquette

During conferences

  • Log in early, and resolve all of your technical problems well before the start of the meeting.
  • Use the mute button when you will be listening a lot. Noise in the background will cause video focus to shift to you.
  • For small groups, keep the video on...and pay attention.
  • Use chat to ask questions, so that audio lag doesn't turn it to a free-for-all

Notes for Specific Software

Here are some notes on using specific conferencing software.

Zoom

You can do a virtual background in Zoom without any special software. See https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/210707503-Virtual-Background

WebEx

You can do some virtual background changes in the WebEx iOS client, which may make your iPhone or iPad the preferred device for using WebEx. See https://help.webex.com/en-us/80jduab/Change-Your-Video-Background-on-Your-iOS-Device.

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