Simple Ways to Upgrade Your Live Video Talks and Workshops

When I’m doing a live video keynote or facilitating an online workshop, I want my video and audio to be better than what I get from a typical webcam and headset microphone.

If you’re a speaker, teacher, or facilitator, you probably want the same thing.

A relatively simple tech setup can give really high-quality results. Look, I’m not a camera guy. I’m not a photographer or videographer. Everything I’ve done here I learned from reading blog posts and online reviews over the past few weeks.

And before we dive into the fun tech details, it’s worth a reminder that A/V quality is not the most important part of a remote talk or workshop. It’s the ideas that matter. The message you’re sharing. The exercises you’re facilitating with the team. What counts is what you do in the moment to change the future trajectory of your audience.

Video and audio quality is just the icing on the cake. But if you’re in the business of selling cakes, I think it makes sense to invest in really delicious icing 🤣

Here’s what I did to upgrade my tech setup for high-quality virtual events.

Camera

My wife let me borrow her Lumix FZ1000. This is not even a DSLR — it’s just a really nice point-and-shoot. I got a “dummy battery” so I can plug the camera into the wall and not have to worry about batteries. A few configuration notes:

  • Disabled sleep so the camera wouldn’t shut off in the middle of a talk 😳
  • Turned off all overlays and graphics on the HDMI output
  • Put in the camera in automatic mode, but chose manual focus so it wouldn’t automatically refocus while I talk
  • Reduced aperture setting as far as possible so the background would be blurred

Camera Stand

The camera is on a tabletop stand, the Ikan Homestream, sitting on the desk just behind my display. ☝️ Tip: Most people look best when the camera is just above eye level.

Microphone

I have a simple wired lapel mic, this PowerDeWise model that plugs directly into the camera’s microphone input and passes the audio over the HDMI output. ️️️☝️ Tip: Don’t plug the mic into your computer or the audio and video will be slightly out of sync.

HDMI Capture

The camera’s HDMI output connects to a video capture box, the Magewell USB Capture HDMI Gen2, which then plugs into the computer via USB. Once connected, the camera shows up as a normal video and audio input in Mac OS. ☝️ Tip: You will need a micro-HDMI-to-standard-HDMI cable to connect the camera.

I’ve also heard good things about the Elgato Cam Link (plus, the company is literally called “The Cat”, so that’s cool) but it was sold out everywhere I checked. The Magewell was recommended by some broadcast pros on a subreddit I found.

Sharing Slides

Here’s how I’m sharing slides from Keynote on a Zoom presentation:

  • In Keynote, select Play > Rehearse Slideshow.
  • Set up Keynote’s presenter view so it includes the current slide, notes, and next slide.
  • In Zoom, share your screen and select the “Portion of Screen” option (under Advanced) to draw a box around the current slide only.
  • Now your audience sees just a clean view of your slide, but you get all the benefits of Keynote’s full presenter screen 👍

Lighting

Three months ago, I knew nothing about lighting. But I’ve been frustrated by how terrible my video always looked, so I did some research. It turns out the principles are simple:

  • You need to use studio lights. Period. It felt super weird to me at first, but it makes a huge difference.
  • Turn off overhead lights to eliminate shadowy eyes.
  • Your main light is called a “key light,” and it should come from slightly off center.
  • You may need a secondary light, called a “fill light,” which is less bright and comes from off-center on the opposite side. (Might not be necessary depending on ambient lighting.)
  • You don’t want the background to be too dark, or it looks unnatural (in my not-so-professional opinion). You can either use a background light, or allow some light to come in naturally, which is what I opted for here in my living room 😝
  • If your lights have adjustable temperature, make them as cool, or blue, as possible. Again, this will feel super weird, but it looks good.

I bought a set of three Viltrox lights in preparation for The Highlight Course (when we hosted weekly live video Q&As). These lights are not super fancy, but they have adjustable brightness and temperature, and they come with a remote so you can tweak the settings without getting up.

Like I wrote at the top, I’m not a pro at any of this stuff. If you know more than I do (which is quite likely), let me know how I can improve!

These tips can’t make a mediocre presentation a great one, but I think they can add polish and refinement to work that’s already making a difference for audiences.

Supporting startups with capital and sprints. Co-founder and general partner at Character. Author of Sprint and Make Time. Former partner at GV.

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