How I Fixed Remote Presenting With Only an iPhone
I recently delivered my first formal remote presentation since the pandemic began. I wanted to make a modest investment to spruce up how I looked onscreen. I also wanted to fix some remote presentation challenges. Along the way I made an unexpected discovery.
I started by looking for an upgrade over the webcam built into my Macbook, something that would make me look a little more professional and less grainy. The highly recommended Logitech model was not surprisingly sold out. Then I read that, with an inexpensive app, you can use your iPhone as a webcam. Its high-quality camera makes you look a lot better than your laptop webcam will. I installed the $8 EpocCam iPhone app on my phone. It connects your phone to your computer by Wi-Fi or USB. I mounted my phone on a $99 Joby Telepod tripod so I could position the webcam exactly where I wanted it. That way, I would appear to be looking straight at my audience, not up or down or sideways.
I then set about addressing the hardest part of remote presentations. With a single screen, when you put your slides into slideshow mode, that’s all you can see. Not being able to see your audience makes it much harder to engage with your material. (Or so I thought.) I didn’t have an external monitor, but I did have a second laptop. I installed Avatron Air Display ($20) on both machines. It turns your second laptop into a second monitor over Wi-FI.
Now, with a little tweaking and experimenting, I was able to see the Zoom or Teams meeting on one laptop, and my slideshow on the other. Off I went! But there was a surprise waiting for me. Most of the participants had their video turned off. All I saw was a bunch of circles with people’s initials in them. But it didn’t matter. Presenting felt much easier and more natural. Why? Because I could see myself in real-time on my iPhone screen, right in front of myself.
It turns out that having a sense of my own presence was the most important thing. Staring at my slides didn’t mean I couldn’t see others; it meant I had no sense of myself. It would be interesting to investigate the cognitive science behind this phenomenon. My guess is that on a physical stage, you have an implicit sense of yourself relative to the room around you, and the stage beneath you, and the people in front of you.
The bottom line is that my iPhone made a better webcam than a Logitech or anything else. I will continue experimenting with my setup. The Joby Telepod has a universal tripod mount on top of it that lets you attach things like lighting and microphones. But thanks to my iPhone, I feel like I’ve surmounted the fundamental hurdle to comfortable presenting from afar.