Some tips for teleconferencing
Right now a whole bunch of people are starting to teleconference without having done such a thing before, and some of the hardware setup is a little bit unexpected. So speaking as someone who’s been doing teleconferencing for a while, here’s some tips to help everyone get along better:
Please use headphones! If you do nothing else in this list, please do this. Headphone use alone will make the biggest difference. The reason for this is that your microphone will pick up sound from the speakers as well, and using headphones means that your audio won’t feed back into the microphone, so you won’t have feedback loops or echoes, and it will cut down on how much the software needs to do “echo cancellation” which is a big part of why you talking makes everyone else cut off.
Also mute your speakers, if your headphones don’t do this automatically. If you’re using a laptop/tablet/phone this probably won’t be an issue, but on a desktop computer this might still be something you have to do yourself.
If you’re not speaking, mute your microphone. Especially if there’s background noise (kids, cats, music, etc.) or if you have a cough or cold.
Please try to limit the amount of background noise, as well; if you have a very meowy cat or barky dog, close your door with them on the other side (if possible). Turn off your radio or TV.
Only connect/listen with one device at a time; this is sort of an extended version of point 1 above, but if you are listening in on a speakerphone or radio or TV or the like, using your headphones won’t prevent feedback from happening. Any noise that someone in the room can hear, your microphone can hear, and anything your microphone can hear gets broadcast back to the conference. You really don’t want your microphone to hear the other participants of the teleconference.
If you’re on a laptop and don’t need to type during the conference, use the microphone on the laptop, which is almost certainly going to sound better than whatever’s on your headset. However, if you need to type, please use a headset with a built-in microphone instead; most laptops these days accept a 2.5mm telephone headset (the kind with four metal “rings” on the plug) and this will reduce the amount of keyboard noise that the microphone picks up.
If you’re using a headset with a built-in microphone, make sure the microphone is clipped to your shirt rather than hanging loose. If it hangs loose it might brush against your shirt (which makes noise) or knock against your desk (which makes noise). These noises can be very distracting and disruptive to others on the conference.
Similarly, please, please, please don’t join in while outdoors if you can help it; even the slightest breeze will also be picked up as a noisy rumble. (As will all background noise.)
Finally: Most teleconferencing systems will show you if the microphone is picking up and sending your audio, or will have a test mechanism where you can check to see if it’s working. Please test this before joining in on the call, which will cut down on the amount of time you have to spend asking, “Can you hear me?” or having others ask, “Are you muted?”
With a little bit of effort we can all make our newly-found virtual presences go a lot more smoothly and less aggravating for everyone.