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Elements of an Effective CU-SeeMe Video Conference

by Yvonne Marie Andres, email
Director, Global Schoolhouse

Video conferencing over the Internet requires substantial bandwidth and a somewhat powerful desktop computer. So, it doesn't make sense to use video conferencing to present information that could just as easily be sent via email. Video conferencing allows for experiences and interactivity that would not be possible through any other medium. It's better than television, and not quite as good as "live and in person."

Therefore, we offer these suggestions for more effective video conferences.


A "video" conference implies that we will be able to view the speaker or the presentation. The better the lighting, the better the viewing experience. Video conferences where the sending site is "dark and fuzzy" are not fun to watch. Lighting for a video conference is much like lighting for good photos.

  • do NOT rely on overhead lights (fluorescent lights are the worst!)
  • do NOT have a window directly behind the speaker (they will appear as a dark shadow)
  • do NOT try to squeeze more than 2-3 people into your window. It is important to be able to see the speaker's facial expressions as they talk (otherwise it's like watching a concert from the "nose bleed" section)
  • DO have a portable light that you can shine on the speaker "spotlight" fashion (a portable flashlight can be very effective)

Cue Cards/Eye Contact

If the speaker is reading notes, the viewer mostly gets to see the speaker's forehead. Instead, the speaker should look directly into the camera as they are speaking, much the same way newscasters do. One way to accomplish this, is to print out your notes in a very large font to make "cue cards."

The person holding the cue cards, should stand BEHIND the camera, so the speaker appears to be looking into the camera as they access their notes.


Sending audio over the Internet is still a bit primitive. On good days the audio can be very clear, but on busy days audio can be very choppy. There are several things that you can do to improve your audio.

  • pause your picture (this helps a lot)
  • talk verrrrryy slooowwwwlly (That way entire words will not be lost)
  • talk loud and distinct (this is simple good speaking advice)
  • vary the tone of your voice (talk with passion)

Photos and Props

Presenters should think of themselves as "story tellers." It is recommended that you use photos and props to enhance your stories. Simply hold the photo in front of the camera and pause the picture. Then tell the story that goes with the picture. This approach is much more effective that watching an endless "talking head."


The main reason for using "live" video is so the viewers can interact with the speakers. CU-SeeMe is NOT recommended for one-way broadcast. Television does a much better job of that. So, when you are presenting make sure that you stop after every 10 minutes (or less) and allow for interaction

Appearance and Attention

Remind students that they are on camera, EVEN when they are NOT the ones who are speaking. It is very distracting to see viewers fidgeting, yawning, or talking amongst themselves. It is proper etiquette to give your full attention to the event. If you MUST divert your attention, pause your picture, so that the other participants are not distracted.

Some clothing shows up better than others. Experiment BEFORE the event to see what looks best.


The conference moderator plays a MAJOR part in a good video conference. The moderator makes the welcoming comments, cues each participant when it is their time to speak, keeps the pace of the conference moving along, and brings the conference to a close.

  • if you are the moderator, you need to "lead" the conference
  • if you are a participant, PLEASE watch and listen to your moderator carefully!

Video Clips

  • it is fine to use very SHORT (less than 2 mins) video clips to enhance your presentation
  • keep in mind that the video will look much slower to the viewers than it does to you


Rehearsals are a VERY GOOD idea. Your students should practice in front of the camera and critique one another several times BEFORE an event!

The Show MUST Go On!

A LIVE video conference is a show...and it MUST go on regardless of the technical difficulties! (And, believe me there will be technical difficulities!)

If one of your participants "crashes," times-out," or disappears, it is up to the moderator and OTHER participants to fill in for them. Usually, the "missing" find their way back!

If you have other suggestions to add to the list above, PLEASE send them to me, so we can share them with all the CU-SeeMe schools.

(Copyright: Yvonne Marie Andres, Global SchoolNet Foundation, 1993)
Permission given to re-print this message in its entirety, acknowledging the author