Staying in touch with family and friends is all-important when you spend lots of time abroad. Videoconferencing is much more satisfying than the old-style dog and bone, and because it is carried over the internet, it is free

There areownsides of course to videoconferencing – you have to learn the etiquette and get your brain round the software, but this is not exactly challenging.

There are also some tricks and techniques to presenting yourself on screen to the best effect.

Step one is to choose the right video-conferencing service, taking into consideration the needs of everyone in the group. Ensure that everyone has the same platform to avoid compatibility issues. Sometimes the choice is dictated by one of the members being a subscriber to a particular platform already, especially if they pay for a package that enables everyone to join in for as long as you like. Otherwise, you may have to accept some limitations for a free service. Popular choices include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Apple FaceTime and Skype.

Your choice
Zoom became everyone’s favourite during the pandemic and while it has lost market share it remains an easy-to-use and robust choice. Free calls are limited to 40 minutes and up to 100 people can join in.

Google Meet allows 100 people to chat for an hour for free, and if talking for free is important to you, Skype (a Microsoft service) has limits that are so generous you will only reach them by talking all day (and even then Skype does not cut you off like Zoom does – it simply goes audio-only).

Apple FaceTime is limited to 32 people but has no time limit but the drawback to FaceTime is that the app runs on iOS only so at least one participant must have an iPhone and be prepared to moderate the call.

Which leaves Microsoft Teams. This is a professional platform and is not loved by many of its users. Avoid.

The next step is to check your internet has a stable, high-speed connection is crucial for a smooth video call. You want to hear and see everything.

Consider using a wired connection for better reliability if your wifi is a bit dodgy (although if you have dodgy wifi you might use the need for a good videoconferencing experience as an excuse to upgrade). If you still get loss of picture or audio, close unnecessary applications and devices that may consume bandwidth during calls.

Looking the part
While it is not necessary to build a TV studio in your house to make excellent video calls, it is well worthwhile investing some time and a bit of cash in the technology to provide the best picture.

First off, pick a location with a nice background and raise the camera to just above eye level. This will avoid those up-the-nose shots featuring your living room ceiling. An added benefit is that you will be angling your head slightly upwards to prevent those double chins forming.

The best way to do this is to mount your device (laptop, phone or tablet) on a stand. A gazillion designs are on the market, ranging from stands that lift your laptop off the desk, to freestanding tripods that hold your phone in place in front of your easy chair.

If people are using phones or tablets, try and get them to mount their devices horizontally to send a landscape picture – this almost inevitably looks better and all the images stack on everyone’s screens better.

Next, look at the lighting. Don’t sit in front of a window as you will appear as a dark patch in a sea of light, like ET. Do ensure there is plenty of light as digital cameras are poor in semi-darkness. If you wear glasses, try and position the lights so as to minimise distracting reflections. There are many LED lighting units available that are designed to provide lots of soft illumination.

You may well need to invest in a good quality webcam for clearer video as they are almost inevitably better than the cameras in laptops. Phones and tablets are usually much better – do a few tests to gauge results.

If audio quality is poor, use a reliable microphone or headphones with a built-in microphone to enhance audio quality. Again, mobile phones and tablets are usually much better than laptops for audio.

The Anker C300 webcam is particularly suitable for family videoconferencing because it uses AI to widen the image if you are appearing as a couple, as well as adjusting the focus. It includes a pair of high quality microphones and provides full HD video quality. All for €101 at

Check mate
Ensure your computer meets the system requirements of the chosen videoconferencing platform. Conduct a test call before starting actual meetings to identify and address any technical issues.

Check your camera, microphone, and speakers to ensure everything is functioning correctly, and check that your videoconferencing platform or app is updated to the latest version to benefit from the bug fixes and performance improvements that are developed regularly.

Adjust video settings based on your internet speed. If the connection is slow, consider lowering the video quality to prevent lagging.

It is a very good idea to familiarise yourself with features such as using the mute button, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, and chat options. Locate the button that displays the view you want, either showing the current speaker only or all participants, and whether you are there too so you can check you remain in shot.

In calls, it may be useful to remind participants to mute their microphones when not speaking to reduce background noise, while remembering to unmute yourself when it’s your turn to talk. You need to be organised to get the best results. Have a backup communication plan in case of technical difficulties. Share alternative contact methods in case someone experiences connectivity issues.

Words: Chris Partridge

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