Now that we’re working from home, as a techie and predominantly “work-from-homer” for the last number of years I feel I’d like to share some of the bare minimums as well as nice-to-haves when it comes to being a speaker from the home. Let’s jump in shall we?

Bare Minimums

A good internet connection

If you’re presenting from home, you need to have a fast, reliable internet connection. Preferably fibre with a minimum of 10mbps UPLOAD speed. I have upload in caps, because that is not what gets sold to you. You will be sold download speed in most cases. With some fibre providers, upload speed is halved (or less), so it’s important to check what you have. Download speed is the speed that you can receive data to your computer, such as other people’s video, whereas upload speed is the speed and quality YOU can SEND video at – which is vital for presenting from hom. 10mbps upload should be your absolute minimum. I am on 25mbps up and 25mbps down. If you’re unfortunate enough to only have ADSL available, upload speed will be a fraction of download, and it may be worth exploring LTE.

A second good internet connection

Fibre goes down. ADSL goes down frequently. It is critical that you have a backup so that the show can go on. Your speaking is your livelihood, you wouldn’t go without business insurance for essential equipment, so don’t go without internet assurance if you are required to present online. There are many routers out there that support a hard-line connection like fibre and a wireless connection like LTE. At the very least, have a spare USB stick with LTE available. RAIN has a fantastic data service which is billed as Pay As You Go, for R50 a gigabyte (charged incrementally). This is a no-brainer when it comes to having a backup as you only pay when things go down. My average bill with RAIN is around R5-R10 a month for my backup, though has gone up to around R230 when I’ve needed to run a few hours of workshops on it.

Be cabled in

Wireless, however good or fancy it may be, is subject to interference. It could be a microwave, it could be other wireless devices in the vicinity, but it is simply not as reliable as a cabled connection. Get a nice long ethernet cable and plug yourself in to your network. There’s way less chance of interference or your laptop hiccupping on the connection. A slow cabled connection at 100mbps can still be more reliable than the latest 1.2gbps wireless connection, and your upstream connection is also not likely higher than 100mbps so it doesn’t matter anyway!

Decent audio

Now that you’re successfully connected, it’s important to have great audio. Terrible audio is a faster way to turn people off than terrible video. Make sure you have a good quality external microphone, or a high quality external webcam that does both. In a bind, a mobile phone headset will often provide great audio quality. In most cases though, you will NOT want to use the microphone that is built in to your laptop. Often, people will hear you type and hear your laptop fan and hard drive spinning.

Decent video

Laptop built in cameras are not all they’re cracked up to be. Get yourself an external camera, and spend the money on a decent HD capable camera. Genius has some good models on a budget, but Microsoft and Logitech are the go-to brands for a few rand extra. The Microsoft Lifecam Studio is a great camera, as is the Logitech C922, with excellent microphones on either – covering your need for an external microphone mentioned earlier. You want to look at a camera that is at least 720p at 30 frames per second. Beware of cheap knockoff devices claiming to be 720p or HD (1080p), often they aren’t. Rather stick to name brands.

Good lighting

Be sure to light yourself well. If you consider yourself at the centre of a clock, with your camera at 12 o’clock, then have your lighting at 10 and 2. This will help avoid reflection on eyewear, and will also light up both sides of your face without a shadow. Something as simple as two desk lamps will do. If the light is too harsh, peg some wax paper in front of the light to diffuse.

A quiet environment

You need to pick somewhere quiet to broadcast from, and also explain to your family that you’re presenting. Spend 20 minutes with the kids / pets directly before your meeting to lower the chances of them barging in, and ask your spouse, partner or housemates to assist you in maintaining quiet. For outdoor noise, hang a thick blanket from your curtain rail over closed windows to dampen the noise from outdoors.

Nice to Have

Greenscreen

I’m personally not a fan of a green screen, but depending on your home layout it may be worthwhile for you. This allows you to change your background more professionally than using Zoom/Teams/Meet’s background changer options. This will also use less processing power. It is not a requirement though if you have neat (and not too busy) background.

Audio processor

An audio processor lets you use studio grade microphones on your computer for online calls. Devices such as the Behringer U-Phoria series allow you to connect XLR cabled microphones and condenser mics needing phantom power to your PC via USB, and allows for pristine, studio quality audio.

Studio quality video webcam

If you really want to go for the cream-of-the-crop, look at the Logitech BRIO 4K Ultra camera. The microphone is studio grade, and the video is capable of 60fps at 4K resolution – though HD will be just fine for remote work.

UPS for your networking equipment

An uninterruptable power supply for your connectivity equipment (such as routers and access points) is a great saving grace when Eskom decides to drop your neighbourhood with loadshedding. This will allow you to continue online for a time while the power is off instead of scrambling to reconnect with LTE.

~ by Ross Saunders, Immediate Past President PSASA