Somehow it seems this year both flew by and lasted at least a decade, but here we are, sliding headfirst into the holidays and preparing to bid 2020 good riddance. But before we do, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on some of the small silver linings that came from this difficult year. We’re not talking big, life-altering blessings, though there were plenty of those, too. We’re talking about the small joys and useful innovations to help adapt to the new world of remote working during a pandemic. So, in the tradition of The Sound of Music, “these are a few of our favorite things.”
Our Favorite Gadgets for Virtual Connection
The quick launch of nearly universal remote work brought with it plenty of challenges — from converting dining tables and spare closets into workspaces to navigating sharing an “open office” with our entire families — but it also brought the opportunity to get to know a few new toys, especially when it came to successful video-based communications. Here are our favorite pieces of equipment to enhance those endless Zoom calls:
An external HD webcam: Even if your computer has a solid built-in camera, it's tough to get a decent angle from the top of your laptop to your face. More often than not, those angles make us look a little distorted and very distracted. And it's even worse if you're referring to documents or slides on a separate monitor rather than looking at your laptop camera. We recommend buying a webcam you can position slightly above eye level on your monitor to make you look present and attentive. Logitech makes the best cameras on the market, but they have been consistently out of stock this year. If you can find it, we recommend the Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam or the Logitech C270 3MP USB 2.0 Webcam.
A USB mic: Built-in computer microphones tend to make us sound a bit tinny or echoey and, often, they cause a feedback loop when they pick up and transmit the voices of other people on the call. A good pair of headphones with a mic, even Apple’s stock earbuds, go a long way to solve this problem, but you’re even better off with a USB mic designed for podcasting or video conferencing. We like the Blue Yeti USB Mic. (Another note on sound: if you’re getting feedback that you’re still sounding echoey even with a good mic, try adding area rugs or drapes to the room, as fabric absorbs sound.)
A ring light: Lighting is often the trickiest part of the setup, as our home lighting tends to be too dark or too irregular for quality videoconferencing. More often than not, we either look like we’re sitting in the dark or we overcompensate and wash ourselves out. While you can get creative with lamps or move your desk so you’re facing a window, this selfie ring light is a great way to get the perfect lighting without having to rearrange your furniture. YouTube stars rave about it. By lighting your face from the front, you’ll avoid awkward shadows or glares and bring your home office one step closer to a film studio.
Our Favorite Apps to Enhance Virtual Events
As we all searched for ways to capture the engaging and entertaining features of live events online, a wide range of virtual event platforms started to take hold, from Jackbox for virtual game rooms to Netflix Party for quarantine movie nights. When it came to making business engagements run smoothly, we liked Hopin and mmhmm the best.
Hopin is an online events platform that allows users to create engaging, interactive events that mimic live events, allowing hosts to apply their own branding and create a variety of simultaneous sessions, while attendees can move in and out of “rooms” to take it all in. This app is a great way to recreate conferences that might have simultaneous sessions every hour, and it’s easy to use, for both creators and attendees.
[Product image courtesy of mmhmm.app]
mmhmm adds additional interactive elements to everyday Zoom meetings, such as immersive slides and virtual rooms, collaboration tools like remote co-presenting, and opportunities for attendees to interact with pre-recorded content, for starters.
Both these apps — and many others — go a long way in bringing the magic of live events to our home offices, making virtual communication easier, clearer, and more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Our Favorite New Vocabulary & Phrases from 2020
One of the most fascinating things about language is that it’s constantly changing and adapting right along with society. And for all the awful this year brought, it also brought its own unique vocabulary. Beyond the unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented,” the Oxford English Dictionary reported huge increases in other words and terms, as well. Here are some of our favorites, from the OED and elsewhere:
- Words for keeping our distance: shelter-in-place, social distancing, physical distancing, flattening the curve, and, of course, quarantine
- Words for isolating together: bubbles, pods, “quaranteams”
- Words for our favorite new accessories: Face masks, masking up, and the resulting “maskne,” along with the even more frustrating term, “anti-masker”
- Words for our 2020 saviors: essential workers, frontline workers, healthcare heroes
Our Favorite COVID-related Communication
COVID19 was on everybody’s list of talking points this year, and some addressed it more effectively than others. Our favorite bit of COVID-19 communication was this 15-minute Facebook Live video by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She hopped online in April to talk with her constituents about the new stay-at-home orders. She was personable and casual while still demonstrating her authority and expertise on the subject, and our scores reflected all this, falling in the top sixth percentile for six key metrics — engaging, compelling, likeable, memorable, passionate, and authentic — and in the top seventh percentile for overall audience perception.
And she did it all while addressing the nation from her couch after having just put her kids to bed. This scenario epitomizes the juggling so many of us have had to sustain during 2020, and her ability to knock it out of the park on every level is pretty impressive, if we do say so, ourselves.
Our Favorite Quantified Resources
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include some of our own content in this roundup, as we’re proud of the way our team has stepped up, leaned in, and found truly valuable ways to help our clients and community navigate this new communication normal.
We hosted a webinar on leading company culture in a digital world, with SailPoint CEO Mark McClain, WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner, and McCombs School of Business’s Dr. Ethan Burris. We created useful, digestible resources like the Ultimate Guide to Effective Communication Skills, The 3 Trends Transforming How Your People Connect, and the Buyers’ Guide to Communication Skills Training. And on our blog, among other great posts, we shared an intimate, personal look at one user’s success story with the Quantified platform.
Our hope is that some of this content proved useful as you and your teammates embraced virtual communication at scale, for the long term.
What are your favorite takeaways from 2020?
It was a tough year on every level. There’s no diminishing that, and we’re not out of the woods yet. But by taking a moment to reflect on the silver linings — big and small, frivolous and profound — maybe we can head into 2021 with a little more hope and a little more joy. Let us know your silver linings in the comments below.