Video chatting can come with a lot of annoyances—shoddy image quality, delayed hearing, and one side of the conversation constantly losing connection. (Don’t get us started on where the heck to look so both parties feel like they’re making eye contact.)
But the more digital our lives become, the more you’re expected to be a pro with applications like Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and FaceTime. These are great ways to stay in contact with your high school best friend or your kids when you’re away on business. Your goal should be to make the most of this opportunity to connect face-to-face—not fiddling with the lighting or finding a quiet location. Use this handy guide to master any conversation you're having via a webcam.
WITH YOUR PARTNER
Keeping your relationship close when you’re far apart requires some planning, says Gina Stewart ofExpertOnlineDating.com. Brainstorm “date” activities you can do over the camera, such as watching an episode of "House of Card" on Netflix or ordering take-out and drinking wine together.
Mind the visuals by hiding your messy room from the shot, choosing a flattering angle, and remembering to make eye contact with the lens, says Laurie Davis, founder of eFlirt Expert and author ofLove @ First Click. At minimum, try setting aside at least 15 minutes—or what you consider to be a maintainable amount of time with your schedule—every day to talk. “Pay more attention to your energy levels than the clock,” Davis says. If you struggle with things to talk about, jot down quick notes throughout the day of things that might interest her, Stewart says.
To spice things up, dress up a little. “Looking nice helps you get beyond not being able to feel each other’s bodies or share a kiss,” Stewart says. “When you need some body experiences, don't be afraid to use Skype for some sexy time,” Stewart says. “It may feel awkward but it will keep the fires of your bond stoked.”
Children’s attention spans are not exactly suited for Skype, and asking little ones to sing the alphabet gets tiring for you after the first 100 times you hear it. Quality Time Lab attempts to tackle this problem with apps meant to recreate family routines on your laptop or tablet for kids 10 and under, says Meri Rosich, founder of Quality Time Lab.
Dinner Time (free for Android,download here) displays a cartoon table and food onscreen to create the illusion you’re eating together. It also includes tools to help keep kids interested, such as board games, a drawing pad, and sing-along videos. You can even use video calling to do an activity you missed with your kids, like reading a bedtime story, Rosich says.
Also, be wary of privacy controls and safety: Make sure if you set up an account for your child that no personal information is displayed. For younger kids, just allow them to use their sibling’s or the at-home parent’s account.
WITH YOUR PARENTS
Your parents haven’t grown up with a cell phone in their hands like you have, so setting up the basics may be the most important part to the video call. If you get frustrated easily, send them a tech support care package fromTeachParentsTech.org, a site that has video tutorials on the simplest computer matters.
For a more personal approach, set up an account for them on Skype.com and do a few practice calls with them while you’re in the other room. Print out all the information they need, such as their username and password, and move the Skype icon to the desktop for easy access.
ON A JOB INTERVIEW
Treat a video call as if you’re in the same room as the other person, according to the Skype Blog. Practice with a friend beforehand to make the process feel more natural and make sure your microphone and Internet are working correctly so you won’t freeze up on the other end of the call. (And pissing off the hiring manager.)
You’ll also want to set the scene by clearing the clutter from the area you’re calling from and position yourself so natural light or a lamp aims at your face from behind your computer. When dressing up, avoid patterns—wear a plain shirt to be safe—because they don’t translate well over camera. Also, make sure you aren’t wearing the same color as the background—or else risk looking like a floating head.
Sit up and straight, make eye contact with the camera, and speak clearly and enthusiastically like you would on any other job interview, Skype staffing consultants advise. If you’re nervous or tend to forget key points, tape a few notes next to the camera to glance at in case of emergency. You don’t want to be awkwardly looking down every few seconds—that’s a bit obvious.
ON A GROUP CALL
As of now, you need a Skype Premium ($9.99/per month) account to group video call your friends. ooVoo (free,download here) or Google+ Hangouts (free,download here) offer group services that let you catch up with your college crowd or plan a multi-family vacation with more ease. With so many people online at once, it may be a good idea to mute yourself when you aren’t talking to keep the extra background noise out of the mix, says the Skype blog.