Communicating Clearly in Zoom

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Hello, Crown Clients and Friends!

Like many others, my entire professional life moved to Zoom in March and April of 2020. It was a platform that I had only heard about a few times before it became the ubiquitous platform for business and education during the pandemic. Although we didn’t exactly choose Zoom to be such a big part of our productive and social lives, it’s probably going to be with us for a while as the most prominent platform, especially since everyone is already familiar with it and capable of using it. In this post, we’ll look at a few shortcuts and audio tips that can help you communicate clearly in your Zoom meetings.

Camera Switching

One shortcut for the Zoom desktop client that I use every meeting is Alt+N, which switches between multiple cameras. If you have two video devices available in your operating system, then they will be listed as video sources just like your microphones are for audio sources. If you have an older camera lying around that has an HDMI out (and doesn’t time out and turn off), you can connect it with a very inexpensive HDMI capture card that converts it to USB. If you don’t use a second camera already, think creatively about what your second shot could be! I personally use a normal HD webcam for my front-facing camera and a camcorder on a tripod for my second camera (which is an over-the-shoulder shot of my piano).

Unmuting with the Spacebar

Even just a couple seconds to unmute can cause serious problems in a conversation with a little latency. The spacebar is a quick way to “punch in,” that is, unmute yourself temporarily. Typically, you’ll want to use this feature when you are speaking less than you are listening, since you have to hold the spacebar down to have it unmute you. It will save you the few seconds that it takes to grab the mouse and navigate over to the mute button and click it, which is very helpful if you just need to say a few words at a time.

Staying Ahead of the Audio Algorithms

On Zoom and other platforms, the audio algorithms seem to work really well during calls with mobile devices. But on desktops, where everyone’s setup is different, these settings can make conversations sound underwater or like you’re talking to robots. This is because the algorithms that Zoom uses to deal with noise aren’t some kind of magic bullet for noise, but are informed guesses about what kind of sounds are “good” and what sounds are “bad.”

Noise Reduction is the amount of processing Zoom does on your microphone before it goes out to the rest of the attendees. If you set it to “High,” you can expect it to do the most filtering of your voice and to try to stop disruptive noises. It may be tempting to just go with the High setting to cover all of your bases, but it can filter a lot of your voice out and make your speech unintelligible. If you can test your levels with someone, try to use the lowest setting possible that keeps your ambient noise (fan noise, hums, etc.) from being distracting.

Echo Cancellation is a separate algorithm, which Zoom uses to stop feedback from happening on devices that have a speaker and microphone next to one another. It does this by automatically turning down your microphone when it hears your speakers. This feature is crucial to being able to make a call on open speakers (as opposed to headphones), but it comes at the cost of making it less able to hear your meeting attendees if you make any sounds at the same time. If you have a hard time hearing someone intermittently because of this setting, asking them to turn down the volume of their speakers can often help.

If you use closed headphones or earphones, and want to turn off the Noise Reduction and Echo Cancellation on your microphone, use the Original Sound setting. This setting makes it so attendees will hear all of the sounds that your microphone does, with no processing. You have to use closed headphones or earphones with this setting because your microphone will pick up the sound of your attendees if their voices come over speakers. There are additional “high fidelity” options for the Original Sound setting, but I’d caution that they are not intended for use with consumer devices. The setting for 96kHz sampling, for instance, doubles the amount of bandwidth needed for your audio stream on the network, but provides no real quality benefits unless one of your attendees is a professional-quality recording studio.

-Written by Derek Jeppsen on Behalf of Sean Goss and Crown Computers Team

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