Bring out the gadget geek in you to deliver better virtual speeches

© Tweeter Linder 2021 – All rights reserved. Photo by iStock.

The day the pandemic broke out, and all our physical speaking engagements became virtual, we had to learn something new from the ground up. It was a bit like going back to the first day when skiing on the slopes—starting on flat ground, learning how to use the lift, and gradually building skills to master more advanced skis and slopes.

This blog post will guide you to find a suitable technology level to match your speaking ambitions. A journey that will force you to find the technology gadget geek in you to get a good foundation in place. Laptops are great tools for toggling slides from a speaking pulpit but require add-on technology to work for professional virtual interactions.

Four technology areas virtual speakers pay close attention to

Even if purchased in 2021, your work laptop is a starting point, but a 15″ screen, built-in cameras, microphones, and loudspeakers are not good enough to come across great. 

Four technology areas affect how your virtual audience perceive your visual and audio appearance: 

  • Video quality – camera limited
  • Video quality – lighting limited  
  • Audio quality – microphone limited 
  • Live delivery – broadband limited  

With all options available, it can be overwhelming to find technology additions to meet your needs. Here you will find five different levels of add-on technology for your stationary virtual speaking scenarios. Graded as ski slopes are graded based on how hard they are to ski. Each tier represents a gradual increase in quality level across all four technology areas. All intended for stationary purposes, with the mobile/backup options to be dealt with in an upcoming blog post. 

Basic homework environment 2021

After 18 months working from home, you are likely to have, or to have considered, the following technology additions: 

  • 27″ stand-alone monitor – mimicking what you had in the office 
  • web camera with an integrated microphone mounted on top of your screen – providing an audio and video quality uplift
  • A small 6 inch LED ring light on a stand 
  • Familiarity with Teams/Zoom video collaboration tools with a virtual background hiding your home environment. 
  • Using a spare USB port for connecting the camera and WiFi to your standard family broadband connection. 

This level is suitable for collaborations with peers in the same company, without any customer-facing virtual interactions. Collaborations were video/audio quality, and reliability is not of business-critical importance. 

Beginner – Green slope 

Your level of customer interactions triggers the reason to consider upgrading to this level. For example, if you regularly interact with customers and speak or engage in conversations in those meetings, you can look at a few easy upgrades:

  • A USB microphone – improving your sound quality 
  • Wired headphones – connected to your microphone – to hear your customers well.  
  • A larger 18″ LED ring light on a tripod to light you up from above. 
  • Review your broadband connection and put your work laptop on a dedicated portion of your home WiFi 
  • Add all the video communication platforms your customers prefer to use, e.g., WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, ezTalks, StarLeaf, BlueJeans. 

This light and audio quality-centric upgrade will make you come across as paying attention to basic quality details. It will only be used for live interactions, as recorded sessions require higher quality ambitions. Make a habit of using your new technology in all internal meetings to learn it well and inspire all customer-facing colleagues to make a similar move. $200-400 takes you to this level. 

Intermediate – Blue slope 

The first more extensive technology leap is limited to speakers representing your company in virtual sessions at your own, partners, or industry events. This technology level must support both recorded and live sessions across a variety of speaking formats:

  • Dual lights, like cube or panels, on tabletop stands  
  • web camera supporting high-quality video 
  • high-end USB microphone enables professional podcast-like sound with used with a pop-filter.
  • High-quality headphones allow you to fine-tune sound levels by ear.
  • tabletop tripod – to enable you to put the camera between you and your monitor when speaking. 
  • second screen or upgrading to a widescreen gaming monitor – to have both speaking notes and a view of the event accessible in front of you. 
  • 4 port USB hub to support the added technology, as most Laptops have limited amounts of USB ports  
  • long Ethernet cable that allows you to connect directly to your broadband modem during an event temporarily. 
  • meshed WiFi network supports resilient operation, potentially eliminating the temporary Ethernet cable once proven to work well. 

This step also represents a significant software leap, both for managing the common virtual event platforms, e.g., ON24, GoToWebinar, Hopin, SociaLive, Zuddl, Etc., and tools for remote production, e.g., OpenReel and riverside.fm. Expect these additions and the software and device interworking to raise the bar for your tech self-support skills. 

At this level, you are likely to pass the boundaries for what corporate expense policies allow. Virtual speaking technology evolves fast, and the quality bar is gradually surging, and it is better to chip in own cash and experiment than risk being behind competitors. Your name and appearance will take the quality hit if your technology is sub-par by the end of the day. You can get here for $500-1,500.

Advanced – Red slope 

This level is for executives, senior leaders, and frequently speaking/VLOGing subject matter experts. You interact with customers at a high level, deliver keynote sessions at industry conferences or face investors. You want to get as close as possible to what a professional film crew visiting you would have done. You move out of your home office chair and stand up in one or two suitable speaking locations at home. This technology will take you far:

  • real camera, Mirrorless SLR, or dedicated VLOG camera, supporting 4K quality and adjustable depth of field.
  • full-length tripod for the camera. 
  • camera-mounted or lapel microphone that is connected directly to the camera. 
  • Wireless earbuds connect to the recording PC for interaction with other speakers in your sessions. 
  • Two light panels on tripods to create professional and attractive light. 
  • A teleprompter, allowing you to record and publish without memorizing.
  • dedicated laptop to supporting your live deliveries and recorded sessions. 
  • Fiber broadband to your home. 

This technology level is hard to pull off alone, but having a kit like this at home that one camera-savvy support person can manage is worth considering. This technology level puts the performer in focus as you will not have any slides or video during delivery. If it is a recorded session, you can add the visuals and caption of your speech during post-production. $2-4k is a good ballpark number as a budget for this level. 

 

Expert – Black Diamond slope 

The final level targets professional speakers and is a micro-studio at home. Speakers who speak multiple times per week run a podcast or YouTube channel and are audio/photography geeks. This level affects the rest of the family as it is a permanent set-up where you can instantly pull off live or recorded sessions. During the planning stage, you want to create a few different speaking spots for various scenarios; for standing delivery, sitting speaking, cozy corner, and a signature background corner. 

The technology in play at this level builds from the previous tiers as far as you would go on a consumer budget:

  • multi-camera configuration enables a mix of half profile and close-ups during delivery. 
  • semi-professional video mixer to mix cameras and visual support as you speak during live sessions. 
  • Add an extra desktop or one-screen computer dedicated to recordings and post-production activities. 
  • large 43-50″ screen that is hosting visual support or for showing moderators and co-speakers. 
  • dedicated promotion screen supports company logos and reinforces messages when you are not actively speaking but appear on screen for the audience. 
  • boom for your microphone for optimal placement in front of you 
  • speaking pulpit with rooms for mixer and a laptop for toggling slides 
  • roll-down green screen when you want to add backgrounds during post-production. 

You can take on professional speaking engagements and manage most upcoming speaker requests you will face at this technology level. You will have to invest in the small bedroom space, and the complete portfolio of technology comes at a $5-10k budget. The reason to go this far is to push the technology to match the best you can bring out of yourself to deliver in any of the 12 virtual speaking formats described before.  

Questions for you and your team 

  1. Which of the described levels best describe my speaking needs and ambitions? 
  2. Do I feel comfortable buying, installing, and managing the equipment described, or will I need external support?
  3. What budget do I have to play with if I combine my company’s possible financial support and personal investments? 
  4. How do I expect my aspiration to shift over the coming three years?
  5. Will I have access to a micro-studio in my post-pandemic office for high-profile speaking engagements? 

Additional reading suggestions

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