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Can you hear me now? 7 ways to sound better on a conference call

By Sarah jones

Today, staying connected with colleagues, teachers, friends and family is more important than ever. Conferencing services like Zoom, Skype and Webex bring familiar faces right to your screen—and chances are, conference calls are becoming a central part of your life right now.

If you work or teach remotely, you know how challenging it can be to stay connected, focused and productive. Whether you’re attending online meetings, classes or video happy hours, your ability to participate and engage others is directly dependent on hearing and being heard.

A lot of factors contribute to bad conference audio, from weak connectivity to background noise—and any single one of them can derail your meeting or class. Yes, there will always be things that are out of your control. But the good news is, you won’t have to make much effort or spend much money to vastly improve the way you sound online. Try these tips for sounding your best on conference calls.

Conference call

If you’re connected on wi-fi, move closer to your router. Even better, switch to a wired connection.

1. Check Your Internet Connection

When you conference from home, you’re your own IT person. While you may not have control over every variable in your call, you can reduce the potential for problems by testing your setup ahead of time. Start by running an internet speed test; if things seem sluggish, minimize the users and devices fighting for bandwidth in your home and close down unnecessary applications on your computer. If you’re connected on wi-fi, move closer to your router. Even better, switch to a wired connection. Ethernet has less than half the latency of wi-fi, meaning it can minimize the delays that cause call participants to start talking over each other. Don’t forget to do a soundcheck: Adjust audio levels as necessary; if you notice interference, try moving electronic devices away from your built-in microphone or phone receiver.

Conference call

Avoid ultra-reverberating spaces when choosing where to work in your home—or just close the drapes, put down a rug or toss a few pillows around the room.

2. Find a Quiet Location

When you’re on a conference call, your background noise isn’t just your problem, it’s everyone’s problem. Choose a quiet space away from windows, which let in exterior sounds. Rooms with blank walls and hard surfaces can be echo-ey; break echoes up by padding your space with soft surfaces. If you’re an audio professional, you might consider investing in some acoustic panels, but sometimes an easier solution is as simple as closing the drapes, putting down a rug or tossing a few pillows around the room. Avoid ultra-reverberant spaces such as bathrooms, which sound fantastic when you’re belting out your favorite song in the shower but spell disaster when it comes to call clarity. (Not to mention embarrassment if you mistakenly turn your camera on.)

Conference call

A standalone microphone—like this AKG Lyra USB microphone—will sound dramatically better than the one that’s built into your laptop or phone.

3. Invest in a Great Microphone

Clear sound starts at the source. A standalone microphone will almost always sound dramatically better than the one that’s built into your laptop or phone; a USB mic simplifies things by plugging directly into your computer. Check out multipurpose USB mics such as the AKG Lyra, which delivers Ultra HD audio, includes a built-in headphone jack and lets you adapt its focus to capture a single speaker, one-on-one interviews or large groups. (Be sure you assign the correct audio input source in your meeting platform.)

4. Master Microphone Techniques

Adopting good microphone techniques will help you sound clearer. Position your microphone directly in front of you, facing toward you, and speak directly into the front of the mic. Speak clearly and loudly; get close to the microphone (start around 5 or 6 inches, or about a hand-width) but not so close that you hear plosives, those exaggerated "p" and "b" consonants that can muddy your message. Avoid pops by backing off the mic or adding a windscreen; if you’re using a headset, move the headset mic over to the side of your mouth. Sit still; you’ll be surprised by how much microphones pick up distracting noises such as paper rustling and finger tapping.

Conference call

The AKG Lyra has a mute button at the ready on its front surface.

5. Make Mute Your Friend

It’s better to have to be reminded to unmute than to be the person disrupting meeting flow with the sounds of sirens, kids, dogs, espresso machines and telltale signs of multitasking like keyboard clicks and phone alerts. If you’re presenting to classes or other large groups, consider muting participants and letting them virtually raise their hands.

6. Quality Headphones Keep You Focused

Using headphones with a built-in microphone gives you added privacy while minimizing the potential for echoes and feedback on your call. Upgrade from flimsy earbuds to professional headphones that cover your ears to provide deeper, richer sound while isolating you from ambient noises. AKG K361-BT and K371-BT over-ear, closed-back bluetooth headphones have a built-in microphone and earcup gesture controls; they offer both wired and wireless operation, and their plush earcups keep extraneous sounds out while cradling your ears in comfort. For the most flexibility and the best sonic experience, pair K361-BT and K371-BT headphones with an Ultra HD microphone like the AKG Lyra.

Conference call

Using headphones with a built-in microphone—such as the AKG K361-BT or K371-BT—gives you added privacy while minimizing the potential for echoes and feedback.

7. When In Doubt, Reboot

If you are having significant audio problems and you’ve gone through all of these steps, restarting your call or rebooting your computer will often solve your issues. Handle the do-over with confidence and everyone will thank you.

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to stay connected to the people who matter most. If you take virtual meetings as seriously as in-person meetings and develop practices that lead to clearer communication, you’ll be more professional, effective and productive.


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