How to Run a Physical Class Online (Better Online Events, Part 3)

​If your business revolves around physical classes such as yoga, pilates, fitness etc. moving online during times of social distancing can be a challenge.

​But I've got good news for you: here at Thrive Themes, we've compiled everything you need to make that offline-to-online transition as easy as possible.

​We've covered the basics you need to know in lesson one of this series and we've published this tutorial and case study based on moving a yoga studio online.

Plus, in today's lesson, we look at the particulars of your technical setup and how to optimize it for physical classes.

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​When teaching a physical class online, all the principles from lesson 1 still apply. However, there's one major difference, which leads to 2 problems. And those, we will fix right now.

​Framing & Physical Distance

When you're sitting in front of your laptop and running an online meeting, your webcam will typically be framing your head and part of your upper body. No more than that.

For a physical class, this just won't do. Your students need to be able to see most or all of your body, in order to see what you're doing and to be able to follow along.

The solution, of course, is to move the camera far enough away to frame your entire body. This solves the framing problem, but it causes 2 new problems.

Problem 1: Terrible Audio

As discussed earlier in this series, the general rule for audio is: the closer the microphone is to your mouth, the better the audio quality.

​When teaching a phyical class, you're very far away from the built-in microphone on your laptop. The result of this is that your voice will not be picked up clearly and background noise will easily intrude or even overpower your voice.

A physical class is a great example of why audio matters almost more than video: as you can see in the video lesson, the webcam we were using to demonstrate is not a very good one. But even though it sends a low quality, low resolution image, you can still see me clearly enough. If I were doing yoga poses or other exercises, it would easily be clear enough to follow along.

But if the audio quality is low, you quickly can't understand what the speaker is saying anymore and students will spend all their attention straining to understand what's being said.

So, let's look at our options for solving this issue:

Solution 1: External Webcam

For a physical class setup, it helps to have an external webcam. With an external cam, you can:

  • More easily mount the camera on a chair or tripod to place it at a suitable height.
  • Move the camera further back than the laptop, which keeps the laptop somewhat closer to you.

Solution 2: External Microphone

Almost any external microphone will be better than the built-in mic on a laptop. You can get a cheap USB mic like this one and a USB extension cord. With this combination, you can move the microphone much closer to where you're standing.

The same applies to the external webcam as well. Get 2 extension cords and you'll have far more freedom in placing the camera, the microphone and the laptop in more suitable locations.

Solution 3: Bluetooth Headset

The best (budget) solution for better audio in a physical class is to get a bluetooth headset. You can get decent headsets for under $50 and the bluetooth connection means you don't have to worry about cables.

A headset will also give you good freedom of movement, so it won't get in the way while you're teaching.

Before you go out to buy a headset, consider that you may already own one. AirPods and any other wireless earbuds that are made for smartphones can be used as a headset. Because these devices are made for taking calls as well, they have built-in microphones. You can pair such earbuds with your computer and choose the earbud-mic as your audio input source.

Make sure to test this in advance. Depending on the earbuds you use, audio quality could range anywhere between awful and excellent.

Advanced Setup Considerations

If you have some money to spend and you want to level up your setup, one of the first things to consider is using a better camera. I would not recommend upgrading to a more expensive webcam, since even expensive webcams aren't that great and aren't made for this kind of scenario.

Instead, a significant upgrade for your video quality will be achieved by using a mirrorless camera such as the Panasonic G70, Panasonic G85 or Sony a6000.

Using the elgato CamLink dongle, you can connect these cameras to your computer, where they will be recognized as a webcam (note that you need to buy a suitable HDMI cable to complete the connection as well - usually micro-HDMI to HDMI).

This upgrade comes with 3 major advantages:

  1. Picture quality that is orders of magnitude clearer and sharper than anything you can hope to get out of a webcam.
  2. Greater versatility with a zoom lens. For example, this G85 with the kit lens gives you a zoom range that goes all the way from a wide angle to a fairly long zoom. That means you have more versatility in where you want to place the camera and how much of your surroundings you want to show in the shot. In a smaller room, a wide angle lens is a life-saver.
  3. A camera like this is ideal for creating pre-recorded lessons and video content both for marketing and for online courses.

Just to be clear: I don't advocate anyone drop hundreds of dollars on a camera on a whim. But if you're serious about doing online classes and getting into video content for online courses and such, it can be a worthwhile investment.

Music Considerations

If you use music as part of your classes, this can be difficult to translate to online events. There are a few issues to keep in mind:

  • If you play music through your local speakers (the in-studio speakers), the music will not sound very pleasing or clear to your students, the music could easily overpower your voice when you're speaking and it could mean that you won't hear your students if they try to ask you something (​their microphones will be auto-muted as long as there's sound streaming from a different participant on the call).
  • If you use a media sharing tool built into an online calling tool (many webinar and meeting tools allow you to share YouTube videos and other media), the music you hear will not be in sync with the music they hear. For dance classes, this is a no-go.

What's the solution? Your best bet is to play the music on your computer and share the "system audio" on your online call. When you do this, students on the call will hear the music in better quality and it will be more in sync with video. I say "more in sync" because you can't expect perfect synchronization, unfortunately. On a group call, audio and video are often a bit out of sync. But if you stream your music using by sharing your computer's system audio, the music won't be ​more​ out of sync with the video than your voice.

If you know a better solution to this problem, please let me know in a comment below and I'll update the post.​​​

Author: Shane Melaugh

Shane Melaugh is a co-founder and the CEO of Thrive Themes. When he isn't plotting new ways to create awesome WordPress themes & plugins, he likes to geek out about camera equipment and medieval swords. He also writes about startups and marketing here.

  • info says:

    Always fascinating – thank you.

  • Dennis Prod says:

    great tips, at this crucial time where most of the classes are happening online, this certainly helps.

  • Karen M McCamy says:

    Hi Shane,

    Thanks for the info on linking my DSLR directly to my laptop…

    Unfortunately, according to their website, my Nikon D5000 isn’t compatible with the CamLink… (Back story: I had purchased the Logitech webcam (from info in Course Craft) before we all realized there was an issue (re: frame rate) with that specific webcam & Camtasia…)

    So, I was hoping that the CamLink would be a solution to utilize my DSLR for my course videos… Screencasting (mostly) & slide deck lectures…

    My question now is this: should I purchase one of the GoPro cameras to use instead of my Logitech, or is SCRN going to be compatible with the 30 FPS you recommend? I am not familiar with SCRN but it sounds like a viable alternative…

    Or…another solution you recommend? I’m such a beginner these video skills, but eager to learn! 😉

    This 6-part video series has been great! 😀

    Thank you! <3

  • Heather J says:

    GREAT content. Thank you so much!

  • Laura B. says:

    For excellent, perfectly synced sound during my online Nia fitness classes, I use a Presonus Audiobox USB audio interface with my Samson Airline Micro Wireless Earset mic system, iPod Touch (a phone would work equally well), and a speaker (mine happens to be a Bose) which I can hear but participants cannot. The audiobox connects to my laptop via a USB cable, a headphone cable and adapter connect the mic receiver to the audiobox, and a splitter, headphone cables, and adapter connect the iPod to the audiobox and speaker. Not an inexpensive setup, but worth it!

  • Colette says:

    Great article! In regards to the music and zoom, another option is to share the playlist in the chat, and give them a 3 2 1 to sync.. I like this option as it allows participants to control the volume of both the voice and music output to their own taste!

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