We don’t know about you, but we’ve been in a heck of a lot of online meetings recently.

And if you’re anything like us, your home office doesn’t look great on camera. (Josh and his partner work from the same room, while Alex shares the basement with his son’s drum kit.)

As a freelancer, it pays to look professional - whether you’re having an online meeting with a client, interpreting from home or collaborating with others on your volunteering activities.

So how do we set up our home office to win over clients?

In this month’s column, we’ll share tips for looking and sounding great on video calls. We’ll also let you in on a little secret: a portable green screen so you can look like a pro in no time.

The right sound

If you’re going to take the floor during online meetings, you’ll want others to hear you clearly and understand what you have to share. So you’ll need a good microphone. The easiest option is often to use a good USB headset, since the microphone that’s built into your laptop or webcam usually picks up a lot of room noise, echo and all kinds of other sounds. Even if you turn your head while speaking or look down at your notes, your headset microphone will always be at the right distance from your mouth, so what you say won’t be lost!

Rule out wireless headsets or headphones like the ubiquitous AirPods from Apple. They’re fine for listening, but their microphones just don’t cut it and the Bluetooth connection can cause connectivity issues. Don’t forget that wireless devices need power - if you don’t charge them, they might just let you down at the worst moment.

In a pinch, the in-line microphone on smartphone earbuds will do the trick. Then again, these microphones can rub up against buttons or fabric, so they need to be handled with care.

If you prefer to use a more professional USB-microphone along with your favorite headphones, consider picking up an inexpensive boom arm. This will ensure your microphone is at the correct distance from your mouth and doesn't pick up any bumps, clicks or shuffling papers.

The right look

Now, let’s talk video. We’ve shared plenty of suggestions on our YouTube channel and in our webinars, but here’s a brief recap.

First, lighting. If you have a window, sit facing it. That gives you plenty of good light, for free!

But the weather can be fickle - especially at this time of year and in our neck of the woods. We recommend picking up an inexpensive ring light. This provides soft, balanced light. Place the ring light directly behind your webcam with a stand, which is often included in the box. Some lights even come with a clamp in the middle for your smartphone.

Second, framing. For most virtual meetings, you’ll want to be in the center of the shot. Put your webcam or camera at or above eye level, no higher than your hairline. You should see your shoulders and entire face. Look into the camera from time to time when you’re speaking to enable your listeners to make eye contact.

Your camera should be steady and at eye level. A tripod or stack of books can help in a pinch. If you want to use your smartphone as a webcam, there are some pretty cool apps out there, too. (Check out this video for a review of Camo, a handy app that turns your iPhone into a webcam for your Mac or Windows computer.)

Virtual backgrounds and green screens

If you’re anything like us, you’ve seen your fair share of virtual backgrounds. And some of them can be pretty terrible, with blurry edges, pixelated images, distracting video backgrounds, and bits of the background bleeding through.

The secret to a good-looking virtual background is to get yourself a green screen. However, most of us simply don’t have a way to hang one in our home office.

Luckily, there’s a solution: the Webaround, an inexpensive green screen with a twist.

Unlike most green screens, the Webaround attaches to the back of your chair. When you’re not using the screen, simply fold it up into its convenient carrying case, then stow it out of sight. When you need it again, pull it out of its bag and it springs open to its full size. The built-in stabilizer aligns the top of the Webaround flush with your chair. Set-up time: under fifteen seconds.

The Webaround comes in different sizes. The smallest unit - at 42 inches (107 cm) - is good for those working in smaller spaces, while the 52-inch (132 cm) model is a great all-around purchase. And the 56-inch (142 cm) Webaround is awesome if you’ve got the space and a wide camera angle. All three units collapse to just 21 inches and are made of spring steel and polyester.

The Webaround is available in green, gray and blue, but unless you’re a lighting or video expert, we’d recommend sticking with green. That’s simply because green isn’t present in human skin tones, and people rarely wear green clothing, so they’re unlikely to blend into the background. The chroma-key features in virtual meeting tools like Zoom are also designed for green screens.

At first, getting the Webaround back into its carrying case can be tricky. To make things easier, we’ve put together a comprehensive video so you can see the Webaround in action - and learn to pack it up in just a few seconds.

Another perk: if you’re headed off on a trip but want to do some filming or need to be on video calls, just pop it into your suitcase.

You can currently pick up a Webaround for between 60 and 75 bucks. In our view, the affordable price, easy handling and flexibility make it one of the best green screens for those who want a simple solution that works right out of the bag. And it’s durable: Josh has been using his almost daily for over six months, and it’s still in pristine condition.

Webaround discount code and raffle!

The Webaround folks have been kind enough to offer a 10% discount to our readers. Just use this link and coupon code "techforword" when you check out.

Plus, they’re raffling off a FREE Webaround to the techforword community! Use this link to enter the contest. Please note: This contest will end on December 15. Due to the current situation, this contest is limited to US residents, and the Webaround folks are not currently shipping outside the US. If you're based in Europe and interested in a Webaround, you can pick one up on Amazon. Please consider using our affiliate link. Your cost is identical, but we get a small commission which helps support our research.

Link to the Webaround giveaway

PS. Questions or ideas about interpreting technology? Drop us a line at [email protected]! We do the research, so you don’t have to.

This post is republished from the December 2020 edition of the Tool Box Journal.