Portable Zoom meeting / webinar kit

by | Oct 9, 2019 | News

Detailing our new approach to facilitating remote meetings on the move

We have a big mission, to help the world’s cities (all of them) achieve the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (all of them). We can’t do it by ourselves, so as brokers we convene the world’s experts. We can’t take them with us wherever we go because they are busy people and travelling the world in a low impact way takes a lot of time, but to get things done it’s more effective to have conversations together and share our work in person.

Part of my role with Resilience Brokers is to bring people together from all over the world and enable this sharing of insight. Recently, we convened a network of european cities in Madrid, all working to accelerate uptake of Nature Based Solutions (which led to some of the learnings in this post).

There are some great online tools for us to use. We have used Google Hangouts in the past but as it is being gradually replaced by Hangouts Meet some of the important functionality is no longer available to everyone, recorded meetings / webinars for example. We choose our tools carefully to make sure they are available to as wide a user base as possible. Some big corporation’s block some tools and prevent the downloading of some applications (web browsers for example). We therefore choose tools that support all the most common web browsers and have apps with the same functionality for the most popular mobile platforms. The new version of Hangouts, Hangouts Meet which does have recording functionality does not currently support the web browser which comes as standard on most of the worlds desktop computers, Microsoft’s Edge.

 Meeting format, El Centro de Residencias Artísticas, Nave 16, Matadero, Madrid September 2019 — note the U-shape table layout to allow the tripod / camera / remote participants to get close up to everyone in the room

We looked at alternatives to Hangouts which were not expensive and provide a great experience for users (not requiring them to log in for example), including services that don’t require plug-in’s to be downloaded (which can also be blocked by some organisations IT policies). Zoom was our answer. It allows us to host meetings and webinars with remote participants and record them but also has some functionality which takes us to the next level, like the ability to share into the meeting a pre recorded video with sound at high resolution without it being jerky.

We travel with laptops and phones and have used a tripod to hold a phone which we can move around the room so remote participants feel more involved / closer to the people in the room who are speaking. But we found that in larger rooms if people are too far from the phone they cannot be heard by remote participants from it’s microphone or hear the remote participants from it’s speaker.

So we looked for a portable but high quality speaker and microphone we could use with the phone. It’s important that the sound to and from the room comes through the same device because otherwise there will be an echo or feedback. It also makes things easier if the sound is coming in and out of the phone, which is also the video camera in the room so that the automatic switching of the video feeds between the participants as they speak in the Zoom meeting / webinar works as expected. This means we don’t have as much to do to control everything.

Workshop format, itdUPM, Centro de Innovación en Tecnología para el Desarrollo Humano, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid September 2019

The greatest challenge comes in having all the devices powered so that we can meet all day without batteries running out and in particular having the phone charging whilst also getting the video and audio feed into and out of it.

After a lot of research and testing devices and wireless and wired dongles we found a relatively simple and reliable solution which involves a wired microphone and speaker.

Using an Apple USB 3 Camera adapter we can power an iPhone via the lightning port and get the sound in and out via the USB port using a Shure MV88+ shotgun microphone which comes with everything you need to mount it and the phone on a tripod and a 3.5mm audio output which can be connected to a speaker. The microphone picks up sound from all around the room and passes it into Zoom via the app on the phone and the speaker, (we have an easily portable BOSE Revolve Soundlink) makes the sound from participants in the Zoom call outside the room audible throughout the room. Wiring the microphone and speaker together (through the respective 3.5mm aux output / inputs) makes for a very reliable connection for the sound (without any problems of bluetooth drop-outs for example) and means we have no echo.

Schematic of the devices and connections in the portable remote Zoom meeting kit

The only setting up required is for the microphone (which cannot be done while it is plugged into the Apple USB 3 Camera adapter). Plugging it directly into the phone via it’s micro USB to lightning cable and using the Shure MOTIV Audio app on the phone set the monitor mix settings for the microphone to — Mic 0%, Playback 100%. This ensures that only the remote and presentation sound from the Zoom meeting is channeled to the speaker. Once this is set the microphone retains these settings while it is used with the Apple USB 3 Camera adapter.

All the other devices in the room should have the microphone input and speaker outputs muted. The exception to this is when you want to share / present a pre recorded video at which time you will want to do the following to prevent any feedback / echo.

Before starting the video:

  • Mute in-room microphone (phone) sound
  • Increase volume of the video playback source computer (have some head / earphones plugged into it so it is not audible in the room directly from the device)
  • Start the share (with Zoom’s, sound from computer and high quality video settings on) choosing the video window
  • Play the video

After the video has played:

  • End the share
  • Decrease / mute volume of source device
  • Unmute in-room microphone sound

We run the meetings from two laptops, one as the host to initiate, manage the Zoom meeting and share / control any presentation or video material and the other from which to join the meeting and show the video as a participant would see it in the room on a big screen or projection via an HDMI cable. The laptop showing the presentation would also have a wireless presentation clicker with a dongle plugged into a USB port and the presentation window always the focus of keyboard input to enable this control (I will share my experience of how to remap a presentation clicker on a Mac to get the video buttons working in a later post). The phone would also join the Zoom meeting to add the in room video and audio from participants to the Zoom meeting.

Packing list for the portable remote Zoom meeting kit

If you can’t trust the wifi in the room and you can plug in via ethernet then plug in one of the laptops to the network and share in internet over wifi to the other laptop and phone in the room.

With this setup we have enabled conversations in a large meeting room with about 20 people, between in-room and remote participants, with one another through audio and personal video, enabling them to get on with their great work. We also have the ability to share presentation and video material with video and sound to the room and remote participants and to record all of these interactions and material as video and audio.

. . .

Coming up in a later post…

Google Docs A3 template — How additions to the Sections functionality have recently made this possible

Presentation remote / clicker remapping — Make the video control buttons work on a Mac