Guide to a video conference based on a conference room with Skype (2023)

If you're meeting with people in a boardroom and you're calling one or more people remotely, I recommend trying a multi-party remote video call, or at least a high-fidelity audio call, and avoiding the traditional use of a conference call bridge to a speakerphone at the meeting table. The reality is that remote people never feel like they are part of the meeting, and as expensive as speakerphones are, audio simply isn't enough. There are several tools out there that can make a multi-party video call, including Oovoo, Sightspeed, Vsee, and others, but for now, I recommend Skype because it's high-quality, cheap, encrypted, and ubiquitous.

While you can easily set up your meeting room with Skype on a typical laptop, it's worth the extra effort to make things work better in the meeting room and get good audio and video quality. Here are some steps in approximate order of importance.

The basics

  • You must update to the latest version of Skype. Use "Help/Check for updates" in Skype or download it from the website.
  • Create or designate a "Conference Master" account. (Skype no longer requires a premium account for this, but calls are limited to 4 hours per day and 100 hours per month.) I also recommend that you have some funds in your Skype account to make calls, see below.
  • The conference master must learn the user interface for multi-party calls. They must run on Windows or Mac. (Unfortunately, only Windows is recommended for now.) The user interface is annoyingly a bit different. Read the Skype instructions forventanaoMac. They also have some instructional videos. The harsh reality is that the version of Windows is more advanced. Don't learn the interface during the conference, especially make sure you know how to handle late calls or re-add rejected people, as this can happen.
  • The conference leader should have a decently powerful PC, especially if you have 4 or more remotes.
  • Communicate the name of the conference leader to all participants. Let them add the conference leader to their contact list before the conference. Confirm them as friends. Alternatively, if you know their Skype names, add them and ask them to confirm.
  • Create a conference call group in advance.
  • You may want to forward remote calls to myInstructions for setting up a video conference with multiple participantsor similar document. Send them the primary ID when you send instructions like this.


Here are the typical issues we see when the meeting room only uses a laptop on the table for the video call:

  • The camera is low on the quality of the table and laptop. He often captures backlights and people watching. Half of the people are obscured by other people or things at the table.
  • Located at the end of the table, the microphone is an inexpensive portable microphone that picks up sound from your own fan, keyboard, and possibly a projector. If you set the levels based on the people at the end of the table, it becomes difficult to hear the people at the other end.
  • You need a high volume to hear distant people, but any incoming calls or other computer noises are loud enough to scare people away.
  • Users have never tried the user interface before, so they play around and struggle with call settings and adding new calls or returning calls. This frustrates others in the room who just want to get on with the meeting.
  • Some people have to come on the phone, but you can't really have a hands-free computer-phone conference that talks very well from speaker to microphone.

To solve many of these problems:

Good audio quality in the conference room.

Although in all remote controls it is recommended to use headphones, in the meeting room, of course, use a speakerphone. If possible, don't just use a laptop's speakers and microphone. In the end, you want the volume to be loud, so external speakers are very important.

Be sure to consider USB speakers

It is very useful to ensure that the conference PC has two audio outputs. One (the USB speakers) is used for conference audio and the volume is turned up. The bad news is that if you only have one audio channel, everything else is too loud: beeps and bloops from the software on the computer, and especially ringtones from callers or return calls. There are tricks to mute them, but the easiest is to have a second audio channel and tell Skype to send the conference audio there, while the ringtones are sent to the main computer or laptop speakers along with the rest of the audio. You can keep the volume low, but not inaudible.

No need to buy USB speakers. You can get small USB dongles with speaker and microphone jacks that you can use to connect regular speakers at most computer stores and for less than $5 online. If you are using an HDTV, you can route the sound to the HDTV speakers. When feeding the TV via HDMI, there is usually one channel of audio on the TV's speakers.

Go to Skype Tools->Options and select "Audio Devices" and make sure "Audio Out" is your new USB/HDMI device and the ringtone still goes to any default audio device on the system.

Some desktop computers have multiple audio jacks, ie. Front and back and sometimes you can send different audio signals to different jacks. So you don't need the USB.

Put a microphone on the desk

The little microphone on a laptop isn't very good and picks up noise from the laptop's fan and from anyone typing on the laptop. Decent desktop microphones are not expensive at all, and of course, if you have a high-end microphone, you can use it. You want an omnidirectional microphone in the center of the meeting table. This is something that higher-end speakerphones with their multiple microphones are better at, and I hope it will one day be supported by tools like Skype, but Skype's superior audio might make up for it. You can also get desktop PC speakers.

Your microphone can be normal or USB. One advantage of USB, when well designed, is that the long cable doesn't pick up stray signals like the call connection on GSM phones.

Get a good webcam and set it up high

The webcam on some laptops is pretty good, but when it's on the table, the viewing angle is terrible. These webcams tend to be blocked by anything on the table, and in a large room, the people next to the laptop will block the ones behind it. People who are very close to the laptop are not shown. It's frustrating for remote people.

Guide to a video conference based on a conference room with Skype (1)So take a remote USB webcam and place it high up where a person's eyes would be looking at the table, and slightly behind the edge of the table. This allows everyone to see the remotes. The distance it reaches depends on the field of view of the webcam. Some webcams are wide, some are narrow, and some can be extended. Some new ones are widescreen, but I don't think they support multi-party Skype anymore. (With a little luck.)

For most laptops, a quality external webcam will improve things significantly. Higher-end webcams that cost between $60 and $100 (less on eBay), like the professional Logitech models that Skype certifies as "HQ," are actually better. They deal with bad lighting and have a number of positive aspects. They have a built-in USB microphone, and it's better than the one on your laptop, but a desktop microphone is better.

If you must use a laptop, at least set up a stand so it's at least eye level, if not higher. For USB webcams, a tripod, easel, or other support can do the job.

Alternatively, if both the meeting room and a remote person are using Windows, consider purchasing the Logitech Orbit camera and the Telerobo program (described below in the second section on the camera) and allowing one of the remote users to control the camera . If you do this, you can put the camera on the table, though it only rotates 180 degrees, and it still has to be on something for it to be at eye level or higher.

check lighting

Good light is the most important key to a good video. By placing the camera high up and tilting it slightly downward, you've probably done the most important thing: keep overhead lights out of the picture. If your room has an outside window, try to arrange things so it doesn't show in the photo.

Consider a remote keyboard and mouse for the conference computer

During the call, someone needs to adjust things, take new calls, etc. Having the Skype computer in front of someone is fine, but it generally needs to be against a wall or at the end of a table for an external keyboard and mouse to be available. You can only use WiFi or USB. See below for settings.

Get a fast computer, plug it in and probably run Windows

I'm hesitant to recommend Windows, but the hard truth is that Skype does its development on Windows first, and the Mac product is always a step behind, and the Linux product even further. As I write this in April 2011, the Mac version seems to be breaking a lot at a larger conference.

Also, Windows has drivers for most webcams (although they can be difficult to install) and has drivers for the Logitech Orbit pan/tilt, which I highly recommend. The Windows version of Skype lets you choose which video should be big or automatically highlights the speaker.

Finally, it never hurts to have a computer with a high CPU count (multicore for sure) and I recommend using wired Ethernet whenever possible, especially for the main computer.

If you don't have a lot of CPU and bandwidth, you'll probably run into problems when your conference grows. In this case, ask people who don't talk much to stop sending video (they'll still receive it) until they need to talk.

Use the chat window

Use the chat window that allows group chat of all online participants. (You can also open windows with one-on-one chats and group chats, which is really useful.) In fact, I generally recommend that anyone with a laptop use Skype and chat, even if they're not on the video call.

Chat is very useful for talking to people about video and audio issues, since the other people in the meeting really hate being distracted by fixing them. Since you'll want to have full-size video on your main meeting room screen, it's a good idea to have a second computer for chatting. (This could also be your second computer with a camera.) Another alternative, ie using two screens on the conference computer, should work, but it's a lot harder than it sounds, as the Skype UI doesn't really work very well with two screens. and it's very easy to accidentally move things to the wrong place. If you want to try this, you'll need to "open" the video window, bring it to the main screen or projector, and manually maximize it. (Using the full screen button takes you back to the main screen and there is no maximize button.) This can leave your original screen set for chat and some call controls. This is how it's supposed to work, but unfortunately Skype still has some work to do in this area.

If you don't tell attendees to be ready to chat, they may not see your chats. You will only be confused by noises. Tell everyone to click the word bubble icon to join the group chat. Avoid using one to one unless you really have to. Be careful, if they don't go with a headset and don't mute you will hear the conversation. (You can mute them, but it's a bit complex.)

Answer callers who need to enter by phone

If some people can't use Skype (it's available to many smartphones, especially over Wi-Fi so they don't have to be at their desk), they may need to sign up with a regular phone. There are several possibilities for this:

  • You can buy a Skype "Skype In" number and assign it to the teacher of the conference. You just call that number and add them to the conference.
  • If they send their numbers, you can call them using the "Skype Out" function. It costs per minute, but it's cheap. You must have money in the account. Create contacts for your phone numbers and drag them into the conference call. It's very easy to add them back if they fall off.
  • You can set a default conference call bridge and have the main Skype account add you to the call. This can be done using Skype-Out, but several conference call bridge companies now support calling their bridges using Skype itself, which is superior. You now have all the ins and outs of a typical conference bridge. Unlike the first two methods above, it doesn't see who is speaking, it just knows it's someone on the bridge. Annoyingly, some of them play music on hold when no one is on the conference bridge, forcing you to make a second fake call to the conference bridge before dialing them. Really bad user interface.

Be sure to send remote callers instructions over the phone, give them a number to call, or ask for their number. Note that calls from cell phones outside of North America are 20 cents per minute, not the 1-2 cent landline cost.

With a second camera (and pan/tilt)

In fact, it can be useful to add another person making a video call from the conference room to the call to provide a second camera for remote controls. The main camera shows the entire room. The second camera may have a "cameraman" pointing at people who have been talking for a while. That way the remotes see the person better - in the wide view of the room, people's faces are not very well defined.

Please note that a second camera may not work if you are pushing your CPU or bandwidth limits.

You might also consider Logitech's Orbit or Sphere camera if you have a Windows computer. This camera has pan and tilt motors. An $8 program calledteledressallows a remote Windows user to control the camera and pan and zoom digitally. You must designate one of the eliminated people as a cameraman.

Guide to a video conference based on a conference room with Skype (2)It turns out that the remote people are much more motivated to point the camera than the people in the local meeting room. Being remote is very frustrating when you can't see who is speaking. the second computerhe mustMute microphone and audio output. Ideally, you wouldn't waste bandwidth looking for the video, but there's still no way to do that.

In fact, having this remote makes sense even if you only have one camera.

More information

  • If the conference participants call you, when you answer, be sure to select the option to add to the conference. Otherwise, the conference takes place. This option is annoyingly a menu in the dialog that appears and is not one of the main options.
  • If you only have a remote party (i.e. no group mode) and need to create a slideshow, you can use Skype if you're doing it on a Skype computersplit screento view the slideshow on the remote control. You can also temporarily end the remote Skype call and make a call and share the screen on your presentation computer, even if you don't have a webcam. The audio is temporarily coming from the presentation computer.
  • Unfortunately, this still doesn't work in multiparty; You must point the camera at the presentation.
  • Alternatively, you can email the presentation to the remotes ahead of time.
  • In certain circumstances, e.g. B. If you only have a remote call, you can set Skype to "auto attendant" and even "send videos automatically". This allows the remote caller to dial without intervention from the conference master. You can only do this if other random people are not talking to you on Skype during the call. (The action on multipart calls has not been tested yet.)
  • Skype has the ability to send SMS, which can be a useful way to remind people on mobile phones to join the call. Also, using the chat is useful as you don't have to bother others with what you are doing.
  • The conference manager should make the first call, either to a single person or to a group of them. Otherwise, the first person he calls can become the master.
  • When participants call in, the Skype interface provides large buttons that maintain the conference and respond to the new participant. This is a terrible user interface. The button to add the new caller to the conference is a little "More" menu that you can click on and select "Add to Conference". Be very careful when using and clicking on it as it is small.
  • Videos have been known to freeze. Unfortunately, sometimes you or your callers need to stop and restart your video.

remote conference master

The initial lecture master requires some attention to detail. It may be that the best person to chair is actually one of the remote controls, not the meeting room. Remote controls are always on the computer and headphones can be worn. You may be better suited to be a conference leader. If they have a high speed computer with good bandwidth and they know what they are doing, let them have it. For example, you can gather attendees, connect with them, or answer their calls without disturbing the meeting participants.

When the leader is away, most of these tips still apply to the meeting room, but the leader must know how to initiate the call and take new calls and bring them back into the conference.

Configuration One: Wall-Mounted HDTV or Projector

I recommend using a wall-mounted HDTV in the meeting room. HDTVs are inexpensive and have high resolution. They're also good for presentations, which is why a permanently wall-mounted HDTV is becoming commonplace in meeting rooms. They are bright and a decent size. Usually, a video cable and an audio cable are laid on the table to connect computers for presentations.

Also, if you can, try connecting the USB to the HDTV, and then point the webcam at the TV to get a good view of the room. Also, eye contact works best. If sound is not already playing through the TV speakers, you can also place a USB audio device near the TV to provide sound.

Connect the Skype computer to the video and audio jacks and set it up to watch. Be careful with dual views as windows and dialogs keep appearing in the wrong place. Put a desktop microphone on your Skype computer.

The same approach applies to a projector, but you need to make sure that the camera is not close to the beam of the projector, as that beam looks very bright to the camera. This is true even if the camera is out of the projector's beam, as it would be if it were positioned on top of or to the side of the projector, as it would be with an HDTV.

While most meeting rooms try to run a video cable down the center of the table, it also makes sense to run USB to a hub on the table. In this case, the Skype computer or someone with a presentation can simply place their laptop on a small table below the HDTV and use a remote keyboard, mouse, and more on the table.

Second setting: Scroll down to HDTV

You may not have an HDTV in your meeting room, and a projector may be easier. But a large monitor or a rolling HDTV is also suitable. In that case, you probably need to place your Skype computer close to your screen, since most people don't have very long video cables. In this case, a good solution is a USB extension cable with a USB hub. This allows you to have a USB hub on your desk to which you can connect a microphone, speakers, and a keyboard and mouse. The camera should be close to the monitor/HDTV for both eye contact and a reasonable view of the room.

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