Communicating online via Skype, online chat programs, Google+, and other Voice over Internet software (VoIP) is becoming more popular not only for catching up with loved ones or friends but also for business and education. More companies are now using online technology to conduct job interviews, meetings, and even conferences. And of course, webinars, online universities and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are becoming mainstream choices for learning skills and earning degrees.
If you are new to this online platform, you may find using it a bit awkward at first, but learning the ropes is fast and easy. You may even find it more convenient than communicating IRL (in real life). Here are five pointers to start you off (although this mentions mostly Skype, you can also check system requirements for WizIQ and Google+ Hangouts below in the community resources section):
Check all the technical requirements ahead of time
Before a scheduled online session, make sure that your devices are all set. If this is your first time to use VoIP, set your equipment up a day before to allow time for installing, checking and testing. You should check the following:
- Your computer
If your computer is a recent model, there is a good chance that it will meet the system requirements for VoIP. New models also have built-in speakers, microphones, and cameras, but you can always use a separate headset with a microphone if you prefer. If you are not sure whether your computer is a recent model, you can check Skype’s system requirements from this link.
- Internet connection
Depending on the type of calls you will make (video or just a voice call? With one person or with a group?), your connection should meet at least the minimum upload and download speeds. If you are using Skype, here’s a table listing the minimum and recommended speeds. The page will also show you how you can check if your internet is fast enough through a test (using Skype for Windows Desktop).
- Test the audio and video
After successfully downloading your preferred VoIP software, check the audio and video settings to see if they work. You can also use your headset to check if it is more comfortable to use and if it helps in reducing background noise and echoes. The following video will show you easy steps to test these if you are using Skype:
- Add your contact or group (and of course allow them to add you).
- Be prepared
Especially if it’s a job interview or an important class or meeting, be ready for any technical difficulties or interruptions. Fully charge your battery and stay close to an electrical outlet for easy access to power. Have a backup computer, tablet or even a phone so that you’ll have another ready device in case your computer malfunctions.
Find a good location
Setting up at an ideal location is essential when conducting this type of online communication. You will need an area that:
- is quiet, with minimum chances of having background noise, music or other sudden sounds such as barking, traffic, children laughing, etc. If you are at home, don’t set up your computer near your bathroom (flushing sounds or water running), or near humming equipment such as a radiator or refrigerator, or a dishwasher or washing machine (especially if they are in use).
- is uncluttered. Check behind you. This is what they will see on their screen. To make a good impression, make sure to tidy up and check if you have laundry or garbage lying around. There may also be posters and pictures on the wall that may offend someone (or may be too revealing of your quirks). Make sure your surroundings reflect professionalism especially if you will be talking to your boss or prospective clients.
- has great lighting. Minimize glare or shadows on your screen so that they can see you clearly. The light should come from behind your monitor directed at you, and not from behind you. Look at a preview of yourself on the screen to check if you have enough light. You can also adjust your computer’s screen settings for color and light balance.
- has no distractions. Before you start your online session, inform everyone in the house that you will be on Skype to prevent someone from barging in on you. This will also be a warning for them not make too much noise. If you have to be outside of the house, don’t choose a high traffic area with constant noise. People passing by will distract you and the person you are talking to. Keep your background stationary. You can check with your local library if they have a study room you can use, or a nearby café that is not too crowded.
Dress properly (especially if it’s an interview)
As much as possible, dress from head to toe not only from the waist up. You may have to pick something up or shift your computer and inadvertently show your pajamas in all its glory. Avoid loud colors or bold patterns on your shirt or blouse to minimize distractions.
Observe proper body language
Just like in face-to-face communication, you should observe proper decorum. Smile, speak clearly, listen actively, and maintain good eye contact (look at the webcam, not the screen). Give cues like nodding your head or making a sound to show that you are engaged and listening. Staying stationary for a certain period of time may make them think that your screen is frozen, so make small movements as much as possible to show that you are still there. While in the session, don’t play a game, surf the internet or be constantly typing. This is not only rude but having other programs open on your computer eats up precious bandwidth and slows it down. So turn off other programs that you don’t need.
Address technical problems immediately
If it is your first time to use online technology, it may help to mention this early on. If you need to address technical problems along the way, the person you are talking to will understand and may help you out of your dilemma. If you cannot hear or see the other person clearly, tell them right away instead of letting them speak on and on and waste their time. If the connection is choppy or blurry, it may help to restart the session, but inform the other party first before you log off and restart.
Top 5 tips for effective online video communication
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