Professionals in all industries – from construction to the courts – are embracing videoconferencing technologies as a central means of keeping in touch with employees and clients. The ubiquity and accessibility of videoconferencing technology can save time and money across the spectrum of business processes. But one thing is keeping videoconferencing from becoming a more standard form of communication: the technical difficulties that all videoconferencers occasionally experience.
The frustrations of videoconferencing, though usually brief and irregular, may at first seem to outweigh the benefits. However, having videoconferencing is a valuable option to improve the efficiency of project workflow. Sure, every technology has a learning curve. The common technology pitfalls of videoconferencing can be avoided or worked around with some awareness of what usually causes these problems. Here are some of the big ones and how to keep them from ruining your videoconferencing experience.
The silent treatment and other sound dramas
Check, check. If you can’t hear the person talking on the conference, the first thing to investigate is whether your speakers are plugged in and turned on (and up). It’s a no-brainer, but it’s exactly the type of thing that we don’t think about and assume is all ready to go. The same goes for your own microphone – check the cords, the on/off switch and the volume if you’re the one who’s gone silent. If these are connected, make sure that the audio input and output sources you’re using are selected in your computer settings. You may find that you’re getting feedback through your mic, in which case, make sure that your mic and speakers aren’t too close together.
Who turned on the lights?
You see it in YouTube videos all the time: either the person on screen appears as a dark shadow surrounded by an ethereal light, or the entire screen, including the speaker, is lit up like a Christmas tree. This isn’t due to the presence of poltergeists or the Heavenly Spirit but is, of course, the result of poor lighting choices. In a videoconference, everyone should be able to clearly see everyone else, not just to protect their vision from overly bright screens but to make it a more personable experience close to the real deal.
Too dark or too light on-screen appearances usually happen when one of two things is going on: the webcam is pointed directly at a light in the participant’s room, or the lights in said room are simply too bright. To fix this, move the webcam slightly so that it isn’t in directly line with a lamp or overhead light, or turn off/dim the lights in the room. Rather than using full-force overhead lights, turn one of the switches off or use several lamps behind the webcam instead.
Missed connections = wasted time
When you show up to an event on time, you expect it to start on time (or, at most, 5 minutes after you arrive). Connectivity problems can keep this from happening and are thus one of the most frustrating technical problems experienced by videoconferencers. Often this is out of our control – sometimes a connection just won’t go through. Too many users on a network or poor quality Internet at remote locations can cause problems ranging from a time delay between picture and words to a lack of any connection at all. At the time of the videoconference, the quickest fix to try is to disconnect and then reconnect. If you have multiple networks, you may be able to connect to another one. After you’ve exhausted those options, it’s time to contact your IT department – but at this point, so much time may have been spent on trying to make it work that you won’t be able to get any work done. You may have to reschedule or resort to a Plan B – a reality of the web conferencing life.
Always have a Plan B
One non-technical user error that videoconferencers often make is not having a back-up plan in case any of the above situations fails to resolve. While less appealing in some ways – no video and no screensharing – there’s always the option of a traditional conference call. Another backup plan, as mentioned above, is to reschedule; this can even be done in advance (a preemptive reschedule, if you will). Set a date in which the entire group can reconvene if it comes to that, to avoid scrambling to make schedules align at the last minute.
Why you shouldn’t give up
If you’re new to videoconferencing, know that these little snags happen to everyone. Remember, things can go wrong with in-person meetings, too (admittedly often also related to technology). Enlist the help of your IT department for your initial setup. They will be able to check your audio, video and webcam function as well as Internet connectivity and connection quality. But don’t learn to be dependent on them; training is crucial for anyone who is using videoconferencing software. Ask your IT personnel to show you, not just do it for you, or get official training from the web conferencing software provider. There are many benefits to videoconferencing: don’t let a couple of minor annoyances keep them from you.