13 Skype tips, reminders and features to improve productivity and professionalism of your calls.
We are no longer tethered to our desks. Technology has allowed us to snip the vines that bound us to offices and office hours. Ours is now a work anywhere, work anytime age.
A few years ago I lived in Sydney, Australia. Whilst there I contributed chapters to UK business books, wrote guest blogs for US websites, and was the community manager for an international Public Relations online community.
I forged long-lasting friendships with the people behind these books, blogs and communities before I met them IRL.
Technology enabled me to shrink the world, specifically tools like Google Drive, Google Hangouts, Dropbox and Skype.
I bet everyone reading this article has used Skype. No doubt for years. But do you know how to get the most out of it?
Here are 13 Skype tips, reminders and features of the free audio and video calling service. I've grouped them by phases - before, during and after your call i.e. pre production, production and post production.
CHECK THE VOLUME CONTROL AHEAD OF A SKYPE CALL
Ahead of all client Skype calls it makes sense to be sure you can both hear and be heard. Test the input and output audio levels - the speakers and microphone.
Know where your external microphone is located. For reasons better understood by the good folk at Lenovo the microphone for my ThinkPad is found near the base of the keyboard. If I angle my laptop in the usual writing position and use Skype without headphones with integral microphone the computer's microphone tends to become muffled.
To check the sound input and output levels use Skype's Echo / Sound Test Service. Here’s how you do it:
How to test the audio levels on Skype
To check the sound input and output levels use Skype's Echo / Sound Test Service. Here’s how you do it. Call the test service to record and playback a message. What you hear in the test call is likely to match how others will hear you and may indicate which of your settings needs adjustment. Here is a step-by-step guide:
- In your contacts area in Skype search for Echo / Sound Test Service
- If Echo / Sound Test Service doesn’t appear as a contact look it up in the search area in the top left hand corner.
- When you’ve located Echo / Sound Test Service click on it then click on the telephone icon at the top of the screen.
- You’ll be greeted by an automated message giving instructions on what to do next
- Record a brief message after the beep. Speaking at the level you anticipate speaking at during your call. Don’t hang up at the end of your test.
- Skype will detect the silence at the end of your message and complete the test with a beep shortly before re-playing your message. What you hear in the test call is likely to match how others will hear you and may indicate which of your settings needs adjustment.
GET THE LIGHTING RIGHT
Natural light is preferable to artificial light. Natural light helps give your skin a healthy glow, while artificial light, especially fluorescent, tends to wash your face out and promote shadows under your eyes - especially if the light source is overhead. But make sure you are facing the light. Having the light behind you will turn you into silhouette.
If using natural light make sure you are facing the the window. Avoid placing the window behind you. Positioned this way you'll be able to see the screen well, but the video call's other participants will only see you as a silhouette against the window in bright sunlight.
Skype tips: Better lighting
- Natural light is best - but face the light
- Avoid overhead, artificial, lighting where possible
- Ideally use three light sources, one behind the camera. One slightly to the right, the other slightly to the left of the camera.
Check the camera angle. You probably don’t want the video call participants to be able to look up your nose.
Place the camera slightly above eye level so that the lens is poised to look down slightly at you. This will emphasise your face more than your body. Especially flattering for a heavier set person, to help them appear slimmer.
Angling the camera below eye level tilting up does have some advantage. It can make you seem taller. But, for most people this angle is to be avoided. It tends to make the body seem larger than the face. Plus you run the risk of angling the camera so that it points up your nostrils - never a good look!
Achieving the best camera angle
If you’re using the built-in camera on your laptop without a laptop stand the chances are that the angle will be too low. Use a pile of books, a box or some files under the laptop until the angle's right.
Skype tips: Improved camera angle
- Poise the camera angle slightly above eye level
- Avoid the angling the camera up from below face level
- Use a pile of books or a box to raise the laptop level to at least eye level
TAKING CARE OF POSTURE
Use the words of my late grandfather as a guide to making a better impression. Alec would often urge the teenage me to “sit up straight; don’t slouch. Shoulders back, stomach in, chest out.” Try to sit straight for the duration of the call. Aim to appear relaxed, confident and interested. Don’t fidget if you can help it – a good chair should help with that.
Skype tips: Posture
- Sit up, sit forward, sit still
- Be conscious of looking relaxed but interested in the call
BE AWARE OF WHAT'S IN VIEW
Manage, or at least rationalise, what video participants will see in your background.
That doesn’t mean framing your university degree qualifications in the background along with rows of same-coloured-spined books like a TV lawyer. But it probably does mean getting all the junk out of shot.
Many of us when we work from home will use a spare bedroom or the kitchen table. Make sure at the very least the bed's made and the washing up is done.
How to check what you look like on camera
Check you have the right lighting, camera angles and professional background by going to the menu bar at the top of the Skype screen and clicking:
- Video settings
Skype tips: Creating a professional-looking background
- Look behind you and clear the clutter out of shot
- Check what's on the walls. Is there anything which might not feel professional to have in shot?
PLAN AHEAD WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY
Like most things in life you get out what you put in. Conference calls, whether audio-only or video are no different. Sketch out the main points of what you’re going to say ahead of the call. This way you can concentrate on listening actively and articulating your point of view without resorting to noisily shuffling through your notes. Or rambling on and on around a subject.
Remember to look up and maintain eye contact with the camera. Benefit from being able to see the other participants and portraying yourself well to the others on the call.
Skype tips: Plan what you are going to say
- Make sure there is a running order or agenda shared ahead of the call
- Ideally have someone responsible for steering the call, keeping to the agenda and inviting participants to speak
- Practice what you want to say ahead of the call and how you are going to articulate your points
- Concentrate on listening actively during the call
- Maintain eye-contact with the other participants to demonstrate you are being attentive and interested
RECORD SKYPE CALLS
There may be times when you want to record your Skype call. You may be interviewing someone for a blog post, a podcast or even want to post the video on YouTube.
Here's a link to download a free recorder for Skype. Always consider the legality and ethics of recording Skype calls in your jurisdiction. In the UK it is unlawful to make telephone interview recordings available to anyone without the permission of the speakers. If telephone interviews are to be deposited in a public collection or made available for research or any other purpose, all this should be explained in detail by the interviewer before the interview starts. Preferably in writing to avoid any negative recourse.
MESSAGE MULTIPLE PEOPLE DURING THE CALL
If you would like to message with different people at the same time during, you can also open multiple chat windows. Just click on “View” from the top menu and then click on “Split Window View”. This will separate the window in two. Double click on each contact to open a separate chat window.
DON'T LET ON YOU'RE MESSAGING DURING THE CALL
During Skype calls you can send all, or selected, participants messages. If you don’t want others to know when you are typing, you can turn off the typing indicator (the moving pencil). Click on “Tools” in the top menu and from there click on “Options”.
Cloaking the typing indicator
- IM & SMS
- IM Settings
- Show advanced options (button on right of screen)
- Uncheck the option “Show when I’m typing” to disable this feature
DELETE SKYPE CHAT HISTORY
If you want to delete all your chat history access the advanced options of “IM Settings”, just like we accessed in the above trick (Hide Typing Indicator), and click on the button “Clear history” to delete all history.
SKYPE SCREEN SHARING
You can share your current desktop screen with the person you are currently calling. This can be handy if you need to provide some kind of instructions to any one. All you need to do is, click on the “+” icon when the call is in progress, and from the menu click on “Share Screen” to start sharing.
SKYPE FILE SHARING
Apart from audio and video calls and instant messaging, you can also use Skype to share files with participants. Send videos, documents and compressed files, and photos whilst you're on the call to speed up meeting outcomes and ensure you're all working from the same sent of documents.
As and added bonus there's no file-size restrictions.
Just drag and drop the file into the chat box or use the 'send image', 'send file', 'send contacts' buttons at the bottom of the page.
BACK-UP SKYPE CHAT HISTORY
Skype deletes chat history periodically. You'll need to back them up if you don't want to lose them.
To backup Skype chat history, open “Run” command and enter the command “%appdata%skype” here and click on “OK”.
A window will open up, here open the folder with your “Skype ID” as name. You will find a file named as “main.db”, this file contains all your Skype chat history. Copy and save the file some where safe, either in your PC or on an external storage.
These are my favourite 13 Skype tips for getting the most out of Skype calls. Which features can't you live without? What Skype tips would you add?
14. Drink Limoncello.
An excellent point, as always Dave. Or perhaps a glass of Rioja? But beware of no.4. Aiming for a good posture … not lying under the table half-cut!
I’m off to invest in a good chair.
Ha! Very sensible. Three side table lamps/ bedside table lamps are also a cheap way to get good lighting. Put one behind the camera. One slightly to the left. The other slightly to the right.