I hope this post finds everyone doing great! I felt compelled to start this crusade in the name of everything that is wrong with modern audio quality!
For those of you who know me, know that currently, at the time of this post, I work at Veeam Software as a Solutions Architect. In my role, especially from an inside position, I am on the phone quite often. I am privileged to work at an amazing company helping to sell truly invaluable software that protects hundreds of thousands of customers, and over 10 million+ virtual machines and counting!
During day-to-day operations, my primary goal is to assist in achieving a technical win by demonstrating our solution, our core capabilities, and how Veeam solves & overcomes business challenges. This is primarily driven via GoTo Webinar and WebEx. These are two of the more common screen-sharing platforms used in today’s business world. As we all know, convenience and ease-of-use are now staples in today’s society, so both of these platforms not only provide several ways to join, such as via web or mobile apps, but also multiple ways to connect your audio feed. This is where problems begin…
VoIP vs Landline: In today’s fast-paced business world, most modern businesses have adopted some flavor of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system for telecommunications. VoIP provides quite a few advantages over the traditional Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines of old, such as soft phones to serve as remote extensions of your phone number, advanced routing capabilities & more. The VoIP protocol is not the topic of concern for today’s post, it’s how your audio is fed into the VoIP system for transmission. Or, put another way, your microphone!
Microphones: When you go to your phone, dial a number, connect, and start speaking, the quality of your microphone greatly determines the effectiveness of your message. For example, if you are on an old speakerphone sitting in the middle of a conference room table, and try to conduct a serious business conversation, where every 3rd word is understood clearly, it leads to more frustration in trying to decipher what is being said vs. truly understanding and digesting what the speaker is trying to convey. I see this way too often in my profession. You spend hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially on data center gear to make sure your business is online & highly available, but cheap out when it comes to telecommunications. What does this say about your level of professionalism? If you are trying to close that big business deal, but your lead can’t understand you clearly, what is the likelihood your value prop will be properly digested? It’s a possibility, at best. I want to be certain my message is transmitted clear & concise to remove as many communication obstacles as possible between you and your intended audience.
Noise Cancelling Technology: There is nothing more damaging to your professional image and reputation than trying to conduct a serious business conversation and having some overly-enthusiastic sales guy in the background yelling, “HELL yea man, DRaaS is the future!!” I mean, he is most likely correct in the view; however, many people might take offense to offensive language, etc.. If you’re talking to the good ‘ole boy down the street, it might not matter, but what if you’re talking to someone like the CTO of a Fortune 500 company? Although noise-cancelling technology can only go so far, and sometimes these outbursts still come through, most of the modern NC technology has come a long way to at least reduce the frequency of these events.
Breathing (I have to breathe, right?): NO! You cannot breathe the entire time on the call! 🙂 Of course you have to breathe, we are all human (at least most of us). This is probably one of the most annoying things you can do while on a call, breathe heavily directly into your microphone. Do you have any idea what this sounds like to the other callers?
A simple microphone position and/or gain adjustment will fix this issue.
Duplex (Half vs Full): Have you ever been on that conference call and there is that one guy who always seems to talk over people? Sometimes, this person who interrupts and talks over everyone else is just flat out rude. They do walk among us, those who would just interrupt you, mid-thought, and interject themselves instead of carrying on a conversation like normal adult humans would (i.e., you talk, now I talk, then you talk again, etc..). I would like to hope the rudeness is probably the minority here, with the majority being a duplexing issue. This can commonly happen when environments are a bit dated and they don’t have full duplex phone systems. Basically, when they start talking, their phone system will not allow any inbound voice traffic, so once they have started speaking, on their side, they only hear themselves, so they don’t realize they’ve talked over other people or someone is trying to interject. They will only hear the rest of the conversation when they stop talking. If they have a full duplex system, which most environments do today, and have had for quite some time, this particular issue does not exist; thus, goes back to that one guy just being rude 🙂
Room Acoustics: Many times, the room from which you place the call has a lot to do with how clear your audio is, especially if you are not on a headset. If you are leveraging one of the suggested headsets, the room you’re in has very little to do with audio clarity simply because the audio from the other callers’ voices is not projected through normal speakers out into the room causing an echo, instead channeled for your ears only. However, if you choose to bypass the preferred & recommended headset approach in lieu of a traditional desk speakerphone, room acoustics have a HUGE impact on audio clarity, and echo issues.
Now that we have brought to light several issues that negatively effect the ability for a clear conversation, let’s talk about ways you can improve your audio skills.
Step 1: Get yourself a great headset!! This is absolutely critical to a proper professional conversation, and every business professional should have one, period! There are many styles, varieties, technologies and features you can choose from. For example, if you don’t have a regular desk phone, but are forced or prefer to use your cell phone, you can get a great headset that either connects via Bluetooth or 3.5mm jack. If; however, you have a traditional desk phone with a headset plug, there are great options for this model as well. Let’s review a couple of exceptional choices, including the one I use, along with many colleagues:
This is the Plantronics CS500, the headset I currently use. This has solid noise-cancelling technology, is wireless so you can stand up and walk around without clumsy cords, and has an exceptional range. This uses a traditional headset jack on your regular desk phone. (Example)
This is the Plantronics Voyager Legend for Bluetooth connections. This is very similar in design to the CS500; however, uses a traditional Bluetooth pair to connect to your device. Since Bluetooth is nearly mainstream in all devices these days, this would be a great option for your mobile phone, PC/MAC or even desk phone without a jack but with Bluetooth technology.
Step 2: TEST, TEST, TEST 🙂 This should go without saying; however, i’m yelling it! Once you get your gear, test it out. Have someone hop on both the new headset and you on the other end of a regular call so you can hear how they sound (this will be you soon lol), then you use the headset and test the other way around. I cannot stress how important this is. Prime example, you get a nice headset, and aim the microphone too close to your mouth and tend to breath heavy. Now you sound like the cat above in the sound clip, likely making the situation worse than if you just called in on your cell phone’s regular speaker. If you test ahead of time, you know how to position your mic as to avoid picking up “every breath you take…” Fine tune your controls, adjust your levels, spend the time during the initial stage to get things set right. If you do it right, this should be a one-time tweak throughout the life of your headset.
Step 3: Avoid using the built-in VoIP service offered through your sharing platform, such as WebEx and/or GoTo Meeting/Webinar. The problem with using these services, as least from my experience, is not only is the audio quality lower than when connected via traditional land lines, but there is an added delay. Sometimes this delay is imperceptible; however, other times it can be so bad it makes having a conversation difficult. Imagine if the delay was 2 seconds. You start talking, but someone else on the call had already started talking 1 second ago, then you hear them after you’ve already started, then you stop, they stop, etc.. It’s a hot mess. If dialing in through the built-in platform is your only option, then do it; otherwise, make sure you have a landline and/or cell phone available before the call.
Step 4: Master the mute button on your gear. There are going to be unexpected things happen while on calls that will be unavoidable; however, if you’re on a conference call where you aren’t the sole speaker, it is extremely important to realize you should be muted when not active in a conversation. Nothing like leaving your mic hot and having dogs barking in the background, or cell phones ringing, or loud key strokes picked up, etc.. Just practice with your gear on knowing how to easily mute and unmute yourself.
First impressions are everything! In your personal life, in your business/professional life, many times you only get one shot to make a stellar impression. One of the worst ways I can think of, if you telecommute or do these first introductions on the other end of a telephone, would be to have horrible audio quality adding unnecessary strain to the call. Do yourself a favor, spend a little money, invest in yourself, and pickup a solid headset, practice with it just a little, and don’t try and EAT the mic by stuffing it too close to your mouth. Most of the above can be summarized in a few short sentences; however, due to the frequency I have seen this, I felt compelled to start a crusade on bringing awareness to the importance of this basic concept. Audio check…check…check… is this thing on??