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3 Ways to Stage Your Video Call Like a Pro

by Kevin Basarab
April 20, 2020

Video calls get a lot of press now: Fun virtual backgrounds, family conference calls, and friend game nights are helping us through these uncertain times. Video calls have been used for years across businesses but are becoming much more mainstream as companies adapt to a remote work culture.

Mediacurrent has been a remote company for over 10 years. We hosted video calls on Skype in those initial days and have adapted as the technologies change through the years. Name a video conference software and we’ve probably used it.

Adjusting to more frequent video calls may be a change of pace but don't think of them as a burden. Video calls shouldn’t feel like big brother is watching you. Video calls should be a natural part of the day-to-day. Just like in an office you have face to face meetings, you can think of video in the same way. Mediacurrent’s philosophy is that our people have lives and bad days happen. If you’re sick, in an odd location, internet issues, etc you aren’t going to be shamed for not being on video. Make your best effort but be realistic.

No matter if you are a seasoned veteran of video calling or just starting to enter the world there are a few practical tips that will make your calls that much better.

1. Consider Your Background

Yes. Virtual backgrounds are fun and cool but they shouldn’t be your default option for every call. Think about who you are on a call with and what you want that background to be. You should make an effort to present a clean background for your calls. Make sure the bed is made and the dirty clothes are put away.

Background upgrades:

  • Free: Hang a dark-colored sheet behind you to block any background distractions. Use a desk light facing the sheet to add depth and backlight to your background. The light prevents you from being a floating head.

  • Low Cost: Purchase a room divider as a quick and temporary custom background. You can hang art, trinkets, etc to showcase your personality on your calls. 

Utilizing a backlight vs no backlight on a solid background.

2. Webcam and Light

Similar to photography, framing and lighting make the difference between a professional and a quick snapshot. Raise your laptop to be level with your face or invest in an external webcam to give better control of your setup. Utilize the rule of thirds and concepts of headroom in framing your face.

Similar to framing, light can make or break your video. The best lighting is natural light and positioning yourself looking out a window will make the softest glow on your face. If you can’t utilize a window or are in an interior location consider investing in a ring light for your laptop. These can be on a small gooseneck or clip that will add a glow of light to your face. Position this light at a slight angle above and just off-centered from your face.

Utilizing no additional light vs a ring light from an external webcam.

Framing/Lighting Upgrades:

  • Free: If you’re using a built-in webcam, raise your laptop angle and direction of the laptop. Utilize a solid surface so your laptop isn’t bouncing around.

  • Low Cost: Invest in a ring light and webcam mount. For more flexibility invest in an external webcam (but not the cheapest you find). 

3. Microphone and Audio

Video calls are cool and all, but if nobody can hear you then they are not as effective. For clear audio, avoid using a built-in microphone and speakers at all costs. At a minimum use the small headset microphone that came with your cell phone. I recommend investing in a headset though, especially if you are on calls throughout the day.

I will steer away from specific product recommendations but affordable headset options exist at approximately $20-30. If you prefer the freedom of wireless and are on calls a lot, quality will cost money. I’ve typically found anything wireless that costs less than $100 hasn’t lasted, hasn’t been comfortable, and hasn’t had good audio quality. While it is an investment a good headset makes a big difference in your calls. 

A quality headset is worth the investment for clear sound 

Audio quality is simple to fix with a headset. A few conference call faux pas exist that we can address: 

  • Voice Echo: Echo of your voice is caused 100% by someone on the call not using a headset. Ask them to reduce their speaker volume or use a headset to resolve.

  • Infinite Feedback Loop: The loud piercing buzz on a call is caused by multiple devices next to each other during a call. When changing devices or entering a room with others on a call ensure you leave audio from one device or mute microphone AND external volume on one of the devices. 

While you don’t need to invest in an entirely new studio setup for video calls, making a few free, or low-cost adjustments can greatly increase your call quality and professionalism. Consider your background, framing, lighting, and audio to up your video call game. Then maybe throw a virtual background in to have some fun.


Meet team member, Kevin Basarab

Kevin specializes in defining and creating editorial workflows. He has completed many high profile projects within the media industry, developed expertise in helping publishers create better workflows, and has several Drupal core commits and many community events under his belt.

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