With so many different phones and phone services on the market today, I am often asked what type of phone is the best to use for an audio conference. Other times, after a conference call a client will reach out to me with questions on how to achieve better sound quality. The quickest solution is to change which phone they are using, or even just how they are using it. This afternoon I will cover the best phone setup to use in a couple of different scenarios, what phones to avoid, and how to adjust your settings for the best possible sound quality using what you have available. I will also touch on some of the customizable settings that our conferencing services offers to help you achieve crystal clear sound quality. After all, no one likes a barking dog, ambulance or subway platform interrupting their conference call.
1. Presentation - Single Speaker
One of the most common forms of conferencing today is a presentation or "lecture" style conference. This is when you have one speaker that is presenting to an audience of attendees on their conference, and these calls can also be combined with a web conference for best results. The first rule in this type of meeting is to have your attendees muted to eliminate background noise. At times it can be a bit eerie for a presenter to not hear anything from their audience, but the trade off is that you will not be inundated with obtrusive sounds (that can also ruin a recording).
It is best for the presenter to use a headset on a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) phone so that the audience can hear them clearly. The rule of thumb is that the closer you are to the microphone, the better your audience will hear you. Headsets also give the presenter more freedom to use their hands, or even walk around if they are using a wireless headset and presenting to a live audience.
If your presentation calls for one or more Q&A (Question and Answer) sessions, you have a couple of options. The best way to handle this is by integrating with a web conference. When a web conference is used, if a participant has a question they can simply chat it in a message box. This gives the presenter ultimate control because they can pick and choose what questions to answer and when. Also with web conference integration, the presenter can choose to un-mute individual participants that have a question (signaled by the participant using a "raise hand" feature).
If using an integrated web conference is not an option, the presenter can simply ask the participants to un-mute themselves when they want to ask a question. The last option is to un-mute all of the participants at once, however this can degrade the call quality depending on how many participants there are.
Q&A Sessions are often the toughest part of this type of call, but if you are able to integrate with a web conference and use the chat method you can achieve a great sounding Q&A session that flows extremely well.
2. Presentation - Multiple Speakers
This type of conference is exactly the same as the first, with the exception of multiple speakers. The best way to do this is have all of the speakers use a moderator code, so that they will not be muted along with the rest of the attendees. This adds a level of complication because most likely the speakers will be on a variety of phone types - some may be on speaker phone, some on headsets, etc. The most sure fire way of keeping this type of conference clean is instructing the speakers to un-mute themselves when they are presenting, and mute themselves again when they are not. Doing this along with using the tips in the first section will ensure a great presentation.
3. Open Discussion
In an open discussion or "open forum" conference, everyone needs the ability to speak. This type of conference is the trickiest to achieve great audio quality on due to the nature of the conference. Speaker phones and cell phones can absolutely ruin these conferences by adding distortion, echo and a variety of quality killing characteristics. Another factor is how many participants are on the conference call; larger conferences will multiply these effects.
For these calls I suggest that speaker phones and cell phones should be avoided if possible, and again that anyone not speaking should either mute their phone or their conference line for optimal performance. If these rules are followed then you can achieve great results regardless of the number of participants on the call.
Below I also have a general reference list for which phones / setups are best used for audio conferencing, in order of best quality to least quality:
1. POTS phone with wired headset (or traditional handset)
2. POTS phone with wireless headset
3. POTS phone in speaker phone mode
4. Business class VoIP phone such as Cisco or ShoreTel (Using same phone setups as 1-3 above)
5. Cellphone in handset mode
6. Two tin cans connected with a string
7. Cellphone in speaker phone mode shopping in the mall
8. Non business class VoIP phone running over home internet service with no supporting QoS
Our conferences can always be tweaked to make the best of what you have. Our services in particular offer a wide variety of settings and we can always work with you to achieve optimal clarity.
I hope everyone has a fun and safe holiday weekend,
Daniel Ripperden, Strategic Account Executive
Great America Networks Conferencing, LLC
15700 103rd Street, Suite 110
Lemont, Illinois 60439
Office: (312) 432-5328
Fax: (630) 633-0390