Here is a story of some of my experiences, and recommendations for researchers who might want to use Skype for meetings across multiple locations. (Skype is just one of the many tools that can be useful for anyone who is collaborating with others across long distances.)
Although I had installed Skype some years ago, I never really used it – only a few times to communicate with family in the States and Australia, never professionally! Videoconferences using Skype have become the norm, however. They are now a regular part of my working for Piirus.
If you too are a novice to video-conferencing, here are a few things to watch out for.
Before getting started:
1. Check your hardware (and software)
Just now I learned the version of Skype on my MacBook “will soon be retired” and I need to “upgrade to Mac OS X 10.6 or higher.” Unfortunately, my MacBook is too old to work with the newer operation system. While that is annoying, I do have newer equipment that I can use to Skype. Phew!
The monitor for my desktop computer does not come with a built-in camera though, so I’ve had to buy a webcam. There is a huge variety to choose from, in all sizes, qualities, and price ranges, and I’m glad that I found a fairly inexpensive one that works perfectly, is small and sleek and attaches unobtrusively to the top edge of my screen.
One more difficulty I came across was that after installing Skype, which syncs with Facebook, I found that for some unfathomable reason Facebook no longer functioned properly for me, on any device. When I deleted the Skype app from my Facebook account, everything worked fine.
2. Getting set up
You can test how you look and sound before your conference by going to “Preferences” and then to “Audio/Video” in the Skype drop-down menu. This allows you to make sure everything is working properly. For the best quality, make sure the room is well lit and try to reduce background noise as much as possible. You will see this image of yourself throughout the videoconference, which I admit takes some getting used to!
Get set up well in advance of the scheduled meeting or conference, just in case something does go wrong. For my first ones, I was ready and waiting in front of my computer a half hour ahead of time, but 15 minutes usually will suffice. Skype does like to up-date itself sometimes, and (depending on settings, I think) it may or may not ask your permission first, so this is a good reason to always sign in early!
For a really important meeting, don’t rely on (sometimes temperamental) Wifi but use a cable to plug your computer into the Internet directly.
3. The meeting begins
The person organizing the video conference will be calling all invited participants, so you can sit back and just wait for the Skype “bleep” and the face of the person calling to appear on your screen, then successively those of all others taking part. Make sure everyone can hear you – the microphone (and sometimes the video camera too) has to be activated on the Skype interface by clicking on the red slash through the microphone-pictogram.
The person speaking is displayed to the others in large size. Your own image will appear in a small window in a corner somewhere. It’s disconcerting at first, but you do get used to it pretty soon.
Sometimes there will be a kind of “delayed reaction” in the image as well as in the sound – this is quite normal for Skype. Just talk normally and don’t let it make you nervous.
Another problem that may occur is getting feedback sounds of your own voice from the other participants. In this case it helps if everyone switches to using headphones instead of speakers.
4. Explore the options
Another great feature of video-conferencing is being able to share computer screens with each other, in order to discuss a live document: Skype will support this, so explore options to learn how to do it. In case it doesn’t work, there is the alternative of everyone looking at the same document on a platform like Google docs, while discussing it through Skype. This has the added benefit that all can edit the same document, not just see it!
This can be a bit tricky sometimes, and you may need to be quiet or mute your microphone while someone else is speaking about their document. Otherwise Skype will show your video feed instead of the document. If you do mute yourself, remember to switch your microphone back on when it is your turn to talk!
Finally, don’t worry! All of this will soon become quite routine and you will be able to enjoy seeing as well as hearing people, while discussing and sharing your work in Skype meetings.
Does this experience resonate with yours? Have you got further tips to offer, for online video conferencing meetings? Please do share in the comments field, below.