Video conferencing for startups and small businesses—10 hacks to maximize their value

Whether you operate a startup on a shoestring budget or have a successful small business, chances are good that you’re always looking for ways to save money, maximize your investments and get your clients, customers and your team excited about what you do. In order to do that, sometimes meeting face to face is necessary—but it can also be cost prohibitive. Between trains, flights and/or the cost of driving a car, plus the actual time you’ll spend traveling (which can be pretty unproductive even when you have the luxury of being able to work on the go), sometimes the benefits of seeing a client in-person just don’t add up.

That’s where video conferencing comes in. It gives you the power to bring everyone together—without the cost of a plane ticket. That said, video conferencing can have its pitfalls and problems, but with a few quick tips you can avoid some of the bumps in the road and get even more from your system.

  • Video conferencing for startups and small businessesGet comfortable with the camera—Looking good in front of the camera isn’t just a matter of putting on a suit and coiffing your hair, so take some time before your debut to practice your camera skills. For instance, learn to concentrate on the camera instead of the screen, slow down your movements, stop nervously picking at your nails, and learn to smile. After all, your clients will see everything that you’re doing, and you don’t want to distract them from your message.
  • Work on your presentation voice—No one likes being shouted at or wants to struggle to hear what you’re saying. So before video conferencing with your clients, test out your mic and figure out how moving around a room changes what people hear. Try speaking softly, loudly and somewhere in between, and ask a co-worker, friend or family member to weigh in on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to sound.
  • Check your settings—As you work on your on-camera mannerisms and presentation voice, don’t forget that you can improve both the way you look and sound by making a few quick adjustments to your webcam’s video settings. With the ability to tweak brightness, exposure, color, white balance and microphone volume, among other things, you can deliver a performance that’s as close to perfect as possible.
  • Location, location, location—Even if you work in an environment that’s all about the hustle, you should seek out a quiet place where background movements won’t distract attendees from your message. As an added bonus, with less motion in the background, your video will also look smoother.
  • Update your technology—With every new iteration of video conferencing technology that comes out, the quality of your experience will improve—either though ease of use, video quality or another factor. By simply updating the version of the technology you’re using, you can get a better conferencing experience. (The good news is that updates are usually included with your technology, so it’s just a matter of clicking a button.)
  • Get wired—For smoother, more consistent audio and video, try to use a wired Ethernet connection instead of Wi-Fi. In a pinch Wi-Fi will do, but it often results in more lag time and interference, which can reduce the quality of your audio and video, frustrate guests and give you a somewhat less than professional look.
  • Check your bandwidth—Depending on the type of video conferencing you want to do, you may need to increase your bandwidth to get the upload/download speeds you need for a quality experience. Although these numbers are subject to change and may depend on the video conferencing service you use, you can consider these numbers (shown as upload/download) the absolute minimums you should aim for:
    • Video calling with screen sharing: 128kpbs / 128kpbs
    • High-quality video calling: 400Kbps / 400Kbps
    • HD video calling: 1.2Mbps / 1.2Mbps
    • 3-person video calling: 512Kbps / 128Kbps
    • 5-person video calling: 2Mbps / 128Kbps
    • 7-person (or more) video calling: 4Mbps / 128Kbps
  • Connect early—The importance of this cannot be overstated, especially if you’re conferencing with clients. After all, you don’t want to waste your client’s time and look like a novice by fumbling around with your technology in the process.
  • Encourage interactivity—People are often hesitant to share what’s on their minds when they feel they’ve been put on the spot, but the point of video conferencing is to simulate an in-person meeting experience, which is typically full of questions, comments and asides—all of which can be important to building trust, understanding and creating lasting relationships. In order to encourage this type of banter, let everyone know that they’re free to ask questions at any time. Then, if there’s an opportunity to engage someone in the conversation naturally—just as you would if you were in a room together—do so.
  • Record your meetings—The best way to improve your meeting skills is to see how they read from the other side of the camera. When possible, record both the audio and video of your meetings and evaluate them in the same way that a football team would go over their plays the day after a big game.

Finally, don’t forget to send a follow-up email. Just as with any other meeting, don’t assume that clients will take notes or even fully grasp the information and concepts addressed in a meeting. In order to hedge your bets, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and provide them with a follow-up message containing the salient points of the discussion and an outline of any next steps, expectations or responsibilities. This way, everyone will have seen and heard the information, and participants have something concrete that they can refer back to. It’s a win-win that costs little in terms of time, and allows you to stay in front of your team and clients long after the meeting has ended.