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Getting Comfortable with Remote Video Conferencing

 Dr. Clark Holdsworth, Senior Manager, Communications and Partnerships
 July 2020

Certainly, video conferencing is not a new part of scientific collaboration. Geography—and the logistics underlying international science—have always demanded remote interaction between researchers. However, the current environment forces remote video conferencing as a regular component of our workflows. Learning a little about delivering consistent video conferencing experiences is a tremendous boost to productivity as the scientific community adjusts its workflows to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Select your setup.

There a few pieces of hardware that determine the baseline video conferencing experience.

It is worthwhile to invest in a microphone. The performance of the stock microphone for most desktop or laptop users will be capped at “adequate.” An external microphone is a moderate cost that ensures consistent audio for everyone involved in your video conferencing. This is particularly true if you are video conferencing from a variety of locations. The sound quality will vary according to the parameters of your setting; for example, room size, construction materials, and ambient noise will affect audio pickup. Invest in a microphone to deliver a more consistent experience.

Speakers and headphones are a similar consideration. You may find that headphones are necessary because of heterogeneity in audio performance across speakers. Meetings and webinars involve multiple users and there is no ability to control audio settings and volume for each user. Selecting high-quality headphones will ensure that the worst audio in your session can still be reasonably understood.

Plan and prepare.

Whether you are involved in a meeting or a webinar, you should prepare for the expected interactions. The dynamics of video conferencing differ from in-person discussions. Most videoconferencing software switches screen view to the active speaker and there is an audio/video delay between users in the meeting. As such, each user must be given the opportunity to discuss their thoughts in full, and coordinated plans for handing off the discussion to each speaker should be prepared. Some items to bring up in your practice sessions:

1. Select a host to control the start of the session and address the attendees with an introduction and discussion.
2. Choose an order for attendees to introduce themselves.
3. Outline general timelines for each attendee to provide content. Everyone should know what to expect from their colleagues so that they can plan their own responses and interjections in a manner that does not lead to attendees talking over one another.
4. Plan a strategy for who will conclude the session and how they want to leave the discussion with the speakers and any passive attendees.

Tricky situations and video conferencing functions.

Here is a list of items to be aware of when planning and conducting your meetings:

The explosion in the use of infographics during COVID-19 has demonstrated their utility in explaining the pandemic, providing updates to its progression, instructing the public in preventative practice, and aiding in fact-based decision making (e.g., vaccine information).

Seizing the opportunity provided by infographics

• Ensure you understand both the audio and video mute functions.
• Unless you have a specific reason, use your video. Body language is important for telegraphing the conversation and maintaining engagement between speakers.
• Understand the chat feature and who is seeing your messages.
• Screen share is a strong tool but offers many options. Be certain you display your preferred content, whether your entire screen or a single application.

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