By Robert “Bud” James, PhD
Jill sees that John has just joined their web call in-progress
Jill: “Hi John, I’m glad you joined us. How’s your day going?”
Jill notices that John has not responded to repeated questions, and waves at John
John puts up a sign that says, “I can’t hear you!”
Jill checks with another person that they can still hear her on the call.
Jill sends in chat,“John turn on your volume or use a different headset.”
A few moments later
John: “Oh – Hi everyone! I can hear you now.”
We all want to sound our best on any type of call – phone, web, and even in person. We’ve all experienced audio issues of one type or another while communicating. It ranges from no sound at all to static or intermittent sound, dropped signal, low volume, and more. It’s no fun when this type of thing happens, especially in important meetings with clients or your boss.
The good news is that as video conferencing software progresses, audio and video quality improve. Getting comfortable with being in an online collaborative format can take time, but there are some shortcuts to getting there along with some subtle rules of online etiquette that everyone should know. There are several things you can do to be productive and sound your best online using our Best Practices to Better Audio on Web Conferences.
Best Practices Checklist
What if you had a Checklist that helped you prevent audio issues from ever happening?
Guess what – you do! In our Memory Spring Mastering Online Collaboration Classes, we teach and utilize a tool that we’ve created called the OCC – The Online Collaboration Checklist. It’s three-part format increases your success in every online meeting or conference: Video, Audio, and Meeting Management.
These three important components help you analyze your online presence from a third-party perspective:
- As I See you online (Video Checklist)
- As I Hear you online (Audio Checklist)
- As I Experience you online (Meeting Management Checklist)
Let’s review the Best Practices we have distilled to help you sound your best online.
Before you begin, check your speakers, make sure your sound is on, and it is at a normal listening level. Most web conferencing tools allow you to initiate a web call by yourself, so start one now as you follow along with our guide.
Audio Background Check
No dogs barking, kids screaming; Not at an airport, or in a pub.
No noisy coworkers or machines; No background music, etc.
Let’s start with what is known as “ambient noise.” This is the sound in the background, all around you. If you simply close your eyes and listen to your ambient noise, you will likely hear several small sounds. Your web conferencing will likely filter-out most typical soft sounds like a computer fan, air conditioning, and the occasional copier or printer.
There are sounds that do rise above the filtered background and are heard by others. These are often sharp sounds, like a dog bark, child screaming and playing, airport announcements, sounds from a restaurant or pub, fax machine, printer, or office noises. In today’s online environment we have learned to be a lot more tolerant about these types of interruptions, but we should still seek to minimize them.
Keep in mind that pleasing background music that calms your nerves or helps you focus is likely NOT coming across very well on a web call, so is best turned-off while you are “On the Air.” Also, keep your phone on vibrate if you can during a web call to not disturb yourself or others.
Best Practices suggest that we remain on mute during most calls until we are asked to speak or want to share. All web conferencing platforms have shortcut keys that will quickly mute and un-mute your microphone. Spend a minute and practice going on and off mute using your tool’s shortcut keys.
(MS Teams: CTRL-Shift-M; Webex: CTRL-M; Zoom: Spacebar)
Mic and Audio Quality Check
Can I hear my voice in the Test?
Can I hear others adequately?
Do I need a headset?
Your Web Conferencing tool includes the ability to test your audio devices. When you do a microphone check, you should be able to create a test recording of your voice, which will be played back to you. Be quiet for a few seconds during the test as well.
During the test playback, listen to it carefully and notice what you hear – and don’t hear. You should hear yourself clearly, without having to raise or lower your normal speaking volume, although you may need to turn up the volume on your computer. If you hear background noise in the playback, see if you can reduce it by closing a door, going into a quieter location, turning down a fan, asking others to lower their volume, or whatever you might need to do.
There are settings in many platforms that will filter out consistent ambient noise. You may need to experiment with another person to see if adjusting the settings help. There are also noise-cancelling microphones that work well in reducing unwanted sound.
There are specific device settings in each platform that allow you to adjust the input volume from your microphone. Typically the “automatic” settings work well. Experiment with adjusting these settings to see what seems to work best for you. If you are not sounding your best, or especially if others consistently complain that they can’t hear you, it may be time to invest in a separate microphone or headset.
Mic Mute and Video Off when appropriate
Am I using mute when I need to speak off camera or there is noise?
Is my camera off if I step away?
Best Practices remind us to stay on mute especially when we are speaking to people that are not on our web call! If you are interrupted and need to speak with someone else, or need to take a quick bio-break, please go on mute and turn off your camera as well. Turn your camera back on as soon as you are done to let people know you are back, and your attention has returned to the web call. (By the way, leaving your camera and mic on as you talk to someone on your cellphone is considered rude and very poor form.)
If you are speaking on the web call and a loud noise or other interruption suddenly occurs in your workspace, address it by letting the attendees know you heard it and are taking steps to address it as best you can. That may mean that you simply have someone else take the lead for a minute while you go on mute and wait for the Trash Truck to leave, or directly deal with the noisemaker.
Vocal Language, Variety, Tonality, Pacing
Am I using clear language, keeping it interesting with the right inflection, and at the right speed of delivery?
The core purpose of Web Conferencing is communication. While WHAT we say is important, a significant part of the conversation occurs in HOW we say it. Are you speaking clearly and pronouncing your words so that others can hear you? Are you speaking in monotone OR are you using various inflections in your voice, slowing down and speeding up as needed, and emphasizing and perhaps even repeating the important key points?
Proper pacing requires reading the queues from your audience and delivering the message at the speed they need for comprehension. Some people are fast talkers, requiring others to either speed-up their mental processing of the message, or they ask the speaker to repeat themselves, or worse, they simply don’t understand the message at all. When you deliver WITH your audience in-mind, instead of simply downloading data, clear communication occurs.
Gentle humor is a wonderful tool to add variety to your conversations or presentations. Of course it needs to be appropriate for your audience and not detract too much from your core message. Properly done, it engages the attendees and keeps them paying attention.
Do people ever ask you to repeat yourself in-person? If so, it may become more exaggerated online. Not all in-person speaking or teaching styles work effectively in web conferences. Remember, the outcome of a web call should be comprehension, not confusion. You might want to review which aspect of your communication skills needs a tune-up. Ask others for honest feedback and be willing to change how you engage others in an online setting.
May You Always Have Enjoyable Audio!
Robert “Bud” James, Ph.D. is a Corporate Trainer and Vice President for Memory Spring, an organization focused on enhancing people’s memories, learning skills, job performance, and brain health. Bud is a skilled orator, Toastmaster, instructor, and in addition to teaching Scuba Diving for decades with over 4,000 dives, he is a sought-after speaker and motivational coach. He has appeared on television (TechTV, UPN, & Microsoft Learn-TV) and numerous talk radio shows on various Internet security topics. He has been on several panels and conferences as a keynote speaker and presenter (Oracle Open World, VMworld, StorageWorld, Microsoft Summit Briefing, and others).