Creating professional-looking results using only a webcam requires preparation! By following some best practices, you will improve your performance, better engage your viewers, and increase their retention of your content. Most of the recommendations below apply to both video conferencing and webcam recordings, but there will be information unique to each scenario at the end of this article.
For a great image, face a bright, soft light source placed behind and above the webcam. It can be even better to use two light sources, at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions.
- If you are using lamps for lighting, use a shade to reduce shadows and/or glare. For lights that produce little to no heat (e.g. LEDs), tape sheets of white paper in front of the bulb to diffuse the light. Parchment paper for oven use is best and safe to use even for lights that get hot.
- Do not sit with a bright light source behind you. One of the most common mistakes is to sit with a brightly lit window at one’s back. Ideally, you should have the computer/webcam centered between you and the main light source.
- Do not use your computer monitor as a primary light source, especially if you wear glasses. Your screen will cast a blue hue on your face and reflect off your glasses, obscuring your eyes. Lowering your screen’s brightness can also help.
- If your webcam has a utility to adjust focus and/or zoom or to correct low-light conditions, try changing those settings to get the best picture. You may have to download such software from your webcam’s manufacturer.
- If you are using a laptop with a built-in webcam and think an external camera will improve image quality, the Logitech C505 is a good, reasonably-priced option.
Ambient noise can be distracting to your audience while unnoticeable to you. Here’s how you can get high-quality audio:
- Use a headset with a microphone like the Logitech H390 if you can. Many earphones with a built-in microphone (like Apple’s EarPods or Sony's MDR-EX110AP) also work fine. Using only the computer’s built-in speakers with its built-in microphone can result in feedback or otherwise terrible audio.
- Listen to a 30-second test recording to identify any potential ambient noise (e.g. fans, air conditioners, office machines), and eliminate as much of it as possible.
- To prevent untimely interruptions and reduce additional external noise, notify anyone you share your space with that you're recording a video or participating in a video conference, and place a sign on the door.
- Maintain “eye contact” with your camera to convey presence and engage viewers. It may feel strange for you, but it can make a big difference for the audience.
- Keep your camera at eye-level to avoid any upward or downward angles. Placing a laptop on top of some books or boxes is a simple solution.
- Be mindful of what's in the background. Make sure there's nothing distracting or anything that you wouldn't want the world to see. We recommend having a plain wall behind you so that viewers concentrate on you, not your surroundings.
- We recommend against using virtual backgrounds, which can be useful but often add an undesirably artificial quality. Furthermore, they rely on several factors that will complicate your workflow (e.g. stricter lighting control for you and the background, color coordination, etc.).
- If using a laptop, do not rest it on your lap while you’re on camera. The result will be a bumpy ride for all.
- If you're using a laptop, make sure it's plugged into a power source and set to a high-performance mode if applicable. Certain laptops enter a mode which allows for extended battery life but may cause reduced video or CPU performance.
- Close all unnecessary applications. Some background tasks can take a significant portion of system resources even when idle.
We strongly recommend a hardwired Internet connection via an Ethernet cable, using whatever adapter may be needed for your computer. If you must use Wi-Fi, try to set up your computer at a location with the most reliable wireless connection. If others also use the Wi-Fi network, and you notice performance issues while video conferencing, it may be worth asking them to reduce Wi-Fi use for that time.
Studies show that viewer engagement maxes out at the 5-minute mark. An instructional video shouldn’t be longer than 10–15 minutes. If needed, break up your content into multiple videos.
Energy and Enthusiasm
Studies also show that speaking quickly and enthusiastically increases viewer engagement. Practicing your presentation will allow you to comfortably present with high energy. Avoid text-heavy presentation slides that split viewer attention.
In conclusion, adjust your environment, equipment, content, and yourself to deliver the best experience for your viewers. With some testing and practice, you’ll soon gain comfort and success.