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Houston expert: How to make the most out of your virtual meeting

With virtual meetings on the rise in the age of coronavirus, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure your meetings go without a hitch. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Even in the pre-pandemic world, more employees were working remotely in America than ever before. Participating in virtual meetings is the norm, at least for now. The shift came rather abruptly. Millions of Americans had only a few days to make the transition. People are now working on laptops where before they worked on double-screen desktops. Home computers proved to be less convenient to work on since work computers have files and sites already organized for easy access. There are certain things that are more effectively communicated in person than through a screen.

But in 2020, there are myriad conferencing platforms that make it easier than ever to communicate virtually. From Skype and Zoom to Teams and Slack, there is no doubt that virtual work is more convenient than ever. Here are a few tips for how you can develop a personal and professional brand through virtual meetings.

Cast from a carpeted room

When you cast yourself from an empty room with tile or wood flooring, you might notice an echo in your audio. It can sound like you're in a cathedral. Carpeted rooms create much better audio quality. If you're not interested in having your whole room redone, lay down a nice carpet on your floor. This will significantly reduce the reverberation and create a sound that is full and intimate.

Opt for a neutral background

Instinctually, one might think that a shelf full of books, plants and photos might present a professional background. They'd be correct. However, in the interest of a virtual meeting, less is more. A neutral-colored wall such as gray or white would accentuate focus on you. It would keep the viewers' eyes from wandering. Trying to figure out what books you read, who that is in your photos, or judging you from your organizational method (or lack thereof).

Consider your lighting

A dimly lit room can convey a sense of, well, creepiness. Don't be creepy. You want to exude positivity. The best way to achieve this is through nice lighting. You want to make sure your desk has enough lighting on your face to bring out the clarity of it on screen. "I suggest using two LED lights at your desk with adjustable lighting on each side your computer camera. They should face toward you so you can adjust for daylight. Even a single lamp would help."

Use your computer over your phone

I know, this sounds like it should go without saying. But it needs to be said. There are too many people doing conference calls via phone. Your phone should be your absolute last resort in a situation where your computer is down and a meeting is absolutely urgent. Using a computer allows you to take notes and provides for a more stable picture. The audio and video quality is also leagues better on a computer.

Take a tech test

Sure, you can't completely get away with not having any technical issues. But what you can do is minimize the issues you're likely to have. Test your web conferencing program well before you are slated to log on. Be sure to grant all the appropriate permissions prior to logging on for the first time. This will save you tons of time as you continually log on every time afterward. Make sure the camera is set up correctly and that the audio works. If your microphone isn't hooked up to the program, connect it. The more testing you do with your web conferencing tech the less issues you'll have when it's finally time to virtually meet.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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From software and IoT to decarbonization and nanotech, here's what 10 energy tech startups you should look out for. Photo via Getty Images

This week, energy startups pitched virtually for venture capitalists — as well as over 1,000 attendees — as a part of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's 18th annual Energy and Clean Tech Venture Forum.

At the close of the three-day event, Rice Alliance announced its 10 most-promising energy tech companies. Here's which companies stood out from the rest.

W7energy

Based in Delaware, W7energy has created a zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicle technology supported by PiperION polymers. The startup's founders aim to provide a more reliable green energy that is 33 percent cheaper to make.

"With ion exchange polymer, we can achieve high ionic conductivity while maintaining mechanical strength," the company's website reads. "Because of the platform nature of the chemistry, the chemical and physical properties of the polymer membranes can be tuned to the desired application."

Modumetal

Modumetal, which has its HQ in Washington and an office locally as well, is a nanotechnology company focused on improving industrial materials. The company was founded in 2006 by Christina Lomasney and John Whitaker and developed a patented electrochemical process to produce nanolaminated metal alloys, according to Modumetal's website.

Tri-D Dynamics

San Francisco-based Tri-D Dynamics has developed a suite of smart metal products. The company's Bytepipe product claims to be the world's first smart casing that can collect key information — such as leak detection, temperatures, and diagnostic indicators — from underground and deliver it to workers.

SeekOps

A drone company based in Austin, SeekOps can quickly retrieve and deliver emissions data for its clients with its advance sensor technology. The company, founded in 2017, uses its drone and sensor pairing can help reduce emissions at a low cost.

Akselos

Switzerland-based Akselos has been using digital twin technology since its founding in 2012 to help energy companies analyze their optimization within their infrastructure.

Osperity

Osperity, based in Houston's Galleria area, is a software company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze and monitor industrial operations to translate the observations into strategic intelligence. The technology allows for cost-effective remote monitoring for its clients.

DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy — based in San Francisco and founded in 2013 — has raised over $92 million (according to Crunchbase) for its cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform. According to the website, DroneDeploy has over 5,000 clients worldwide across oil and gas, construction, and other industries.

HEBI Robotics

Pittsburgh-based HEBI Robotics gives its clients the tools to build custom robotics. Founded 2014, HEBI has clients — such as NASA, Siemens, Ericsson — across industries.

CarbonFree Chemicals

CarbonFree Chemicals, based in San Antonio and founded in 2016, has created a technology to turn carbon emissions to useable solid carbonates.

SensorUp

Canadian Internet of Things company, SensorUp Inc. is a location intelligence platform founded in 2011. The technology specializes in real-time analysis of industrial operations.

"Whether you are working with legacy systems or new sensors, we provide an innovative platform that brings your IoT together for automated operations and processes," the company's website reads.

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