To improve your video calls, you essentially want to do 3 things:

  • Avoid echos and noise
  • Avoid delays and dropped data
  • Have good lighting

This is how you do all of that cheaply:

Avoid Echos and Noise

Wear Headphones

When 2 or more people are not wearing headphones in any call, echo cancellation techniques are required to prevent endless echos whenever they are talking. Most software does this by muting the audio of one side when the other side is talking, which means when people speak simultaneously, one of them is automatically muted. This makes talking on video calls a bit fatiguing and stressful, as many natural micro expressions that people use to indicate that they want to speak next do not work. Echo cancellation gets worse when there is more than one person on the call too.

You cut this gordian knot of a problem by making everyone wear headphones. Now echo cancellation can be turned off and everyone can talk and listen simultaneously like they do in real life. Putting your phone against your ear essentially acts the same way, which is why we never noticed this problem in many landline and cell phone conversations.

Have a Quiet Room

Trying to have a conversation with another conversation or noise happening simultaneously is an exercise in frustration. With video calls it is especially frustrating since the audio is distorted in a way that makes it hard to filter, unlike noisy parties in real life. Your coworkers or classmates might be too polite to tell you it annoys them, but it does. Go find a quiet room if possible.

Mute Yourself if Your Not Talking

You can minimize the pain of a noisy room by muting yourself when your not talking for a while. Even when your room is quiet, we all make little noises as we move around and tap on our keyboard.

Avoid Delays and Drops

Avoid Bluetooth, Use Wired Headphones and Microphones

Zoom fatigue partly comes from the low quality of audio and delays in that audio as your mind struggles to parse what is being said. Video is secondary in zoom fatigue and we often do well if the audio is working well. This is why most video call apps highly prioritize audio over video in calls.

Bluetooth fucks with all of this. It makes audio significantly lower quality, less reliable and adds significant delays. You can avoid all of those problems by plugging in your microphone and headphone.

Some people hate it when they are tethered to their computer via a wire. If you want to retain this freedom but significantly improve quality, make it that your bluetooth headphones are just headphones and to use a plugged in microphone. One way to ‘plug in’ your microphone is to use the one built into your laptop, which you can change in your video call settings. Making your bluetooth headphones ‘headphones only’, you also significantly improve the quality of the sound you are hearing.

Turn off Wifi

Like bluetooth, wifi & cell phone internet adds significant delays and stutters to your video calls. You can fix all of this by plugging in your computer to ethernet and turning off your wifi connections. The quality and reliability of your calls will go up significantly and people on the other side will understand you better.

Have Good Video

Face the Light

Cameras have to work extra hard to make you look good when there is more light behind you than in front of you. It’s called being backlit. This often happens when you sit in front of a window or lamp when you do your video calls. You can easily fix this by flipping yourself and have your lamp or window be in front of yourself. People rely on facial expressions as part of communication, and if your face is hard to see then. A cute desk lamp can help with this.

Turn off Virtual Backgrounds

As fun as they are, they add to zoom fatigue with all of the distortions they add. Please clean your room and turn it off once you’ve delivered your joke, everyone understands if your working from your bedroom in these COVID times.

Turn on Your Video

Being on a video call with someone who doesn’t turn on their video can be more fatiguing, since you cannot process their facial expressions when talking to them. It’s much easier to connect when your can see a face.

Clean your Camera

Since laptop and phone cameras tend to be touched by human fingers and are in spots you tend to hold when you open your laptop, they tend to be covered with the oil from your hand. These adds glare and reduces the clarity of your video. Quickly wiping your camera lens with a napkin, glasses cleaning cloth or your shirt can significantly improve video quality by getting rid of the gunk. You can also fog the camera with your breath to clean more effectively.

You usually don’t have to do this with desktop webcams, since they are not touched by hands often.