With just about the entire marketing industry working from home for most of 2020, we’ve seen an explosion in Zoom meetings, virtual events and, let’s be honest, more new podcasts than the world necessarily needs right now. I’ve worked from home since 2012, so didn’t expect my setup to change too much. For years, a Jabra Speak desktop speakerphone and a Blue Snowball USB mic was all the professional A/V kit I needed. Most meetings were conference calls. Even Skype or Zoom meetings were usually audio only – as if asking people to switch on their cameras was somehow intrusive or unprofessional. Lockdown changed all of that, possibly because people craved to see faces other than the immediate family. “Cameras on” has definitely become the norm. Plus, with events going online, I also needed to record my sessions and workshops as videos. And quality really matters when people have paid for a ticket. Like many people, I needed to lift my video game without turning my office into a production studio. Here are a few lessons I learned. Camera You may have realised already, but the webcam built into your laptop or desktop computer is possibly the worst camera you own. Your best option for recorded video might be a DSLR camera if you have one. However, this might not be the best option for routine Zoom meetings or desktop streaming, unless you can find a way to mount your camera as a rather cumbersome webcam above your computer. Yes, you can fork out for an external webcam, but you probably don’t need. Smartphone cameras have advanced considerably in recent years and can easily be pressed into service as a webcam in seconds. The easiest solution is to install a webcam app on both your computer and smartphone, such as Iriun Webcam or EpocCam. Because the app works over Wi-Fi, you can place your smartphone camera wherever you want – or even move around with it. Audio A good picture is important, but good audio is essential. People are far less tolerant of poor sound. Once again, your built-in mics may not be up to a professional job. An external USB mic will almost always improve the quality of your audio – and doesn’t have to be expensive. However, potentially more important than the mic is the room you’re in. The larger the area, the more echo any mic is likely to pick up. Windows and other large, flat and hard surfaces can also bounce sound around, while softer surfaces (curtains, furniture, etc.) absorb more. Experiment to find the location in your house where you can get the best audio and then set up the area to look great on camera. Lighting In my office, the light changes a lot during the day. What looks great on camera in the afternoon can look dark and gloomy in the morning. I needed to take control of the lighting. Consistent and sharp lighting is also essential if you plan to get creative with effects such as green screen. (Seriously, leave the virtual backgrounds alone unless you have a green screen and decent lighting. No one likes to see bits of you randomly fading in and out while you talk.) Instead of leaving your lighting to potluck, invest in one or two LED video lights. Depending on your space, they don’t need to be big or expensive. But the difference can be massive. Just don’t make the same mistake I did. I bought an affordable ring light and tripod because I thought mounting my smartphone camera in the centre of the ring would be easier. Unfortunately, this setup means my eyes reflect the ring of light back into the camera, giving me the look of a homicidal android replicant. Not the best impression to give a new client. Perhaps avoid a ring light and go for a regular LED light instead. Making life easier Some other bits of tech are optional, but I’ve found they make recording good-looking video a little less stressful. For example, I installed a Teleprompter app on my phone so I could read my script while looking directly into the camera. The extra bits of tech that are helpful to you will depend on what you plan to stream or record. For most people, just looking professional in Zoom meetings is enough. For others, the move to virtual meetings and events presents an opportunity to stand out in new and creative ways. While it’s possible to spend eye-watering amounts on professional gear, 99% of the time a big budget is completely unnecessary. Instead, with a little planning, it’s possible to give your virtual presence a noticeably more professional shine for much, much less.