Video conferencing with Skype
Over the last year I have started to use Skype more and more to video conference. Being somewhat short of cash and also not having training schools, the GENESIS solution never appealed to me. (Although it is extremely relevant to general YWAM leadership it seems to have stayed in the realm of training).
My base is a small one. Not running schools means few YWAMers passing through. We wanted more face to face time with other YWAMers and bases and also needed Video conferencing for meetings. So I have discovered some ways of using Skype to achieve the same ends.
Skype is very proprietary (something the GENESIS folks rightly discourage) but due to its zero cost and cross platform nature it is already established as the video conferencing solution of choice for many YWAMers. I like Open Wenga Phone as it is an Open Source project, uses open protocols and works much better with Linux.
Preparing for a Video Conference
A word about privacy of information
Due to recent Government snooping it is now well known that Skype conversations and chats can and are being accessed by the US government. See this article for more.
You Will Need
- To be organised and communicate clearly with the other person in the conference so they are prepared too.
- A computer running the most up-to-date version of Skype.
- A Wire connection to the internet - you can use wireless but the bandwidth is lower, the computer has to encrypt the information one more time and wireless can be erratic. Using an ethernet cable will make it a lot more predictable and stable.
- Your computer plugged into a PA or sound system or really powerful speakers.
- A decent microphone. This is important. If you have a high quality headset then that microphone may well be adequate. The built-in microphone on a laptop should not be used! (You might get echo's from the loudspeakers, pick up the hum of the laptop operating and almost certainly will have terrible sound quality. Sound is very important especially if you have non-native speakers in your conference. They really need good sound to understand the conversation. The higher frequencies that a microphone can record are the most important ones for intelligible speech.
- A half-way decent webcam - I have had reasonable success with even 10 euro webcams but the better webcams really are better! Particularly in lower light levels like an office.
- A fixed line telephone and the other party's phone number! Even the best laid plans fail. I order to avoid disappointment have a fall-back solution ready. The telephone is 100 year old technology - you can relie on it much more confidently than Skype. (The other day we could get video but sound was not working. We used a fixed line phone and completed the conference like that. It was great to see the caller on the screen and hear the caller on the phone!)
- A big monitor or a video projector - you want everyone to see the other person of course!
A Week Before
- Call to agree time of conference. Get a backup phone number. Agree a time to test equipment just before the conference time
- Test your equipment set up throughly. Use Skype call testing - is the sound clear? Do you get feedback when using the equipment?
A Day Before
- Double check the other party is ready and has tested their equipment. Make sure they are on a fixed line and have a headset or a set-up similar to yours.
A Conference in Photo's
An Hour Before
- Set up the room - see diagram
- Lighting - people the camera is focused on need to be well lit. Directional lighting from the camera's side towards the people is best. If there is a window for example make sure the subjects are facing it and it is not behind them. Otherwise the light from outside will over expose the people who will just appear as black shadows. Experiment till you have it right. It is important to get the other party to work on this too.
- At arranged test time call other party - iron out sound level problems, lighting issues etc.
- Don't change a thing on your computer now! "If it ain't broke don't fix it"
Running the Conference
- Video conferences are different to normal meetings. There is a different Meeting Etiquette to observe.
- Take turns to speak. Allow pauses - there is a time lag with Skype of up to a second which makes for unnatural conversations. Don't be put off by this.
- Take your time remember this is costing nothing!
- Use fall-back when you have to. It happens to the best of us. Heavy internet traffic might make the voice or picture die off. Try turning off the picture to give the bandwidth to the sound.
- Look at camera not screen when you speak The idea position for the camera is in the middle of the screen. That is not possible. Try to look at the camera - you appear to be looking directly at the other person on their screen.
- Put the mic close to your mouth. Mic's work best like this!
- Speak slowly
- Don't pick your nose.
Hints and Tips
- Really - you should not pick your nose
Equipment That Works Well
Please put here the exact make and model of webcams, mics etc. that really works well. Please put down anything that works cross-platform (Windows, Linux and Mac OS)