The things “aside” most people do not pay attention to but make a great difference in virtual meetings

Virtual meetings should be fun and effective and not frustrating or energy draining. With this attitude in mind I have – in part I of this blog – focused on the setting of backgrounds and lights when sitting in front of a WebCam and participating in a meeting. In this part II of the blog I will now focus on useful audio set-up in online meetings. I will share my experience what bad audio quality can do in feedback conversations and heated discussions. Over the years I gained some important insights I want to share with you. So that you can have great virtual meetings yourself as well as how to avoid.

Choose your surroundings carefully

noisy meeting environment is a factor to consider for audio set-up in online meetings

Sometimes I participate in online meetings where some of the participants are sitting in public places with lots of background noise. When this background noise is not filtered out it makes it very difficult for everyone else to understand what persons in such surroundings contribute to the conversation.

I have two tips for such situations:

  • The obvious one: try to find a quiet spot where background noise is limited or not existing. This also has a psychological effect as it shows other participants that the meeting is not so unimportant that you do it on-the-run.
  • Or: if working with a smart phone check that it has noise cancellation activated. That also greatly helps. Alternatively: invest in a better headset with built-in noise cancellation.

It really makes a big difference, more so for the other participants, when everyone takes care of this aspect. However, I would not just recommend it out of courtesy towards the other participants but also to make the virtual meeting an “annoyance-free” one for all.

The role of a headset or earphones

In the early years of online meetings using Skype, WebEx or Adobe Connect it was clear to everybody that a headset was an absolute necessity. This was mainly driven by the poor quality of the microphones and loudspeakers built into computers as well as their slow software control for microphones to switch them on or off in conversations. By now computers have become much better and faster, hence, a lot of people believe that the use of headsets is no longer necessary as the system works fine. And that is true – technically.

use a good headset for audio set-up in online meetingsI myself was tempted to get rid of the headset and have meetings just using my computer’s built-in microphone and speakers. That is until I had experienced a couple of crucial conversations in various virtual meetings. The persons involved in the meetings did not use a headset and it all seemed fine. When we started having a more controversial discussion or were exchanging feedback I noticed that I got increasingly irritated by the other person’s voice. This happened three times in a row.

Reflecting on this experience it triggered me to conduct an experiment with one of the persons involved to check how her voice sounded with and without headset. I found it very interesting that the voice of the person speaking without headset had a subtle metallic pitch to it that disappeared with a headset. I also realised that this metallic pitch contributed heavily to the irritation I felt in the discussions. Then I was wondering whether it is just me who gets irritated by this metallic pitch in a voice or whether other people had similar experiences. And indeed, a number of people I spoke with had similar experiences. That brings me to the conclusion that wearing a good quality headset or earphones can even play an important role in how a crucial discussion of feedback conversation goes because of its influence on participants on a subconscious level.

decent earphones are already an improvement in audio set-up in online meetings

I’m not an expert on sound systems, headsets or earphones by any means. So I searched the Internet and found a very useful, and also very detailed blog about how to choose the right microphones or sound systems for your virtual meetings. Check it out here.  There are many more links in this blog which lead you further in the exploration of headset quality. It really is worth it to spend sone time on this matter.

The essence of it

Resist the temptation to not use a headset in online meetings. They do greatly improve the sound and therefore voices of participants.
It doesn’t have to be the most expensive one! Yet, noise cancellation (not just for your headset speakers but also for the voice transmission!) is a valuable bonus if you cannot avoid sitting in a noisy environment during your meetings. And if one doesn’t like to wear or carry around a clunky headset, good quality earphones already make a big difference.

If you want to discuss this subject further get in touch with me direct or check our Virtual Leaders Lounge agenda.


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We explore this and other business relevant subjects in our Virtual Leaders Lounge. This is an informal online meeting of maximum 10 business leaders where we discuss challenges in virtual teams and organisations and share best practices. No PowerPoint is used no prep work required!

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