I recently sent an extremly long email to a client with tips on hardware setup for live online delivery at the organisation wide level.
Thought I would share most of it here also to help the Community :-)
- USB devices for facilitators and attendees
- I recommend this for a setup ease point of view. Plug and play will be easier for everyone involved and reduce chance of connecting to the wrong socket etc
- The same goes for webcams
- Something to think about is the amount of USB slots the devices will have. Perhaps your attendees are remote working with laptops, does it have enough a USB slots for all the devices. Will you need to include a USB port switch or hub device for example
- Webcams - Depending on your organisation and sessions webcam requirements will vary
- Attendees - As a general rule of thumb I would say that if attendees have laptops with built in webcams, that will generally be fine and not to worry about greater investments for them. If they don’t have any webcam at all, this does not overly need to be a huge issue unless the design of the session requires it. Any cheap plug and play webcam I think would be sufficient in most cases
- Facilitators - If they only have a laptop webcam then I would highly recommend they are provided with a better USB plug and play webcam. A facilitator looking down constantly at the attendee can feel a bit odd in the session, it is much nicer to have a webcam that is pretty much at eye level and that the quality is good. If the laptop webcam is good quality, perhaps the facilitator would just need to raise the height of the laptop. You don’t need a super HD webcam but if the facilitator is going to have the webcam on at any point let alone the whole session it needs to be of at least an average quality
- I use a Logitech C920 HD Pro webcam. It costs about £55.00 and the quality is fine, no issues. It hooks over the top of my monitor. I would think most webcams ranging from £25-50 would be acceptable, one that hooks over the screen and will be more at eye level would be best
- Jo uses a Logitech C925, it is more expensive but she uses it all the time and records videos on it. The C920 would be more than enough
- Headset with microphone for attendees
- For attendees an all in one headset with microphone will likely be fine for them. Spending a bit more on a headset that has a better microphone would be nice but not if it is going to bend or break the budget. Attendees will be speaking every now and then and as long as they can be heard it will be ok, the quality does not need to be outstanding
- The above being said… Situations where you might think attendees will be more vocal, coaching sessions, one to one training, group discussion work. If this is the primary focus of the session, average or below sound quality from mics can get draining quickly. A pool of superior headsets could be kept and handed out for these sessions when people are working in the office. With remote working, it might be a challenge. Something to think about regarding a cost to benefit ratio and likelihood of finding yourself in this situation
- Additional point is to have a headset that is simple to use. Some have on and off switches for both audio in and out. This can confuse attendees as they have it switched on and can hear but can’t speak, then you spend five minutes messing around trying to help them and they realise there is another on switch for the microphone. Generally it is easier to simply mute and unmute in the platform and so a simple headset can make life easier. Plug it in, it works, mute in the platform, unmute in the platform to speak, mute again
- One last point here that is something to think about but is not essential. Whatever headsets you buy to have the name of headset on the headset itself. You won’t believe how many times attendees will not be able to hear and I will get them to check in the platform or the operating system if the correct device is selected, yet they don’t know what the device is called. They can have legacy devices still showing as options to select and so on. In a previous organisation I worked for, I purposely got microphones that had the name on the headband and ear piece. They all knew what they were called and what name to select. I might be overthinking this bit but food for thought
- Headset and separate microphone for facilitators
- For facilitators quality audio out is essential for when they are speaking on the mic. Poor quality sound is a sure fire way to annoy attendees listening for even a short period of time, let alone if you record the session and want to distribute it multiple times. If there is a budget limitation then the bulk needs to go on good quality microphones for the facilitators. I suggest a separate microphone from the headset for two reasons and they go hand in hand, quality and cost. If you want a headset with a good quality microphone, they generally cost a lot. You can get lots of cheaper good quality headsets where the audio you hear is great quality, but the microphone Is lacking. Unfortunately for the facilitators we really want this the other way round, audio in to be ok but amazing quality for audio out when they speak. This is why I suggest a standalone USB desk microphone
- In a previous job I used a “Blue Snowball” – About £50.00 and the quality was pretty good. When I started working for Lightbulb Moment and started doing online all the time. I got a “Blue Yeti” – About £100.00. Quality is a lot better but if cost is an issue then the quality you gain for the extra £50.00 is not essential. Rode also do good quality microphones, I use a Rode NT-USB microphone now, (my Blue Yeti did not survive moving house, my own fault!) and the mini version is also supposed to be good quality also. You could potentially look at some cheaper options, £25-35 range microphones from other brands but perhaps get one and give it a test first before buying in bulk. As I say this is the most important part in your considerations
- The issue with a desk microphone is that it does not move with you like a microphone on a headset will. Jo and I simply have the microphone as close to in front of us as possible and 99% of the time it is not an issue at all with little echo. The odd time you turn to your second screen and you sound a little distant until you turn back but they are few and far between depending on your setup
- I recommend a pop filter. If you search for the Rode NT-USB you will see it comes with one built in already. When I used my Blue Yeti I purchased one that attaches to it for less than £10.00. It improves the sound quality and as the name implies it reduces or stops the pops you get when you speak and the microphone transmits them in a strange way. Low cost addition that can help your audience on a long session
- We don’t use microphone arms, we tried them and found them useful the odd time but mainly for recording podcasts and videos not so much for facilitation. Potentially a facilitator might benefit from it if there setup requires it. Thinking a low desk and laptop without a stand for example. Likely easier to invest in other solutions to resolve those issues
When it comes to any kind of technology and getting a different setup up and ready to go it can be a challenge. You will have a microphone that might need some assembly, attach to a stand, attach pop filter for example. You need to find a spare USB slot for the headset and microphone etc. For most people this will be quite simple, for some it will be a challenge to do this and get it connected to the computer, understand what it is called and get windows seeing the device plus the platform you are using. I mention this because either IT might need to go and do this for everyone. Or with remote working, perhaps your facilitators will get a parcel delivered and need to do it all themselves.
For non tech savvy facilitators who are potentially busy and stressed already, this could be an extra level of challenge and time they don’t need or want. You know your organisation better than I do, but something we often say to our clients is that perhaps you need a little guide on what to do, create a short video or get a user to have it setup and then run a quick webinar or live session and show everyone what to do.