There are many reasons why your conferences or online meetings don’t work. Before you point fingers at the network or blame it on user errors, start with the room you occupy. If you can properly match your conferencing system to the characteristics of your “near end” space, you’ll go a long way to ensuring that your participants on the “far end,” wherever they are, can hear you. You have three tasks to perform if you want to make your own space a great conferencing space: optimize your room acoustically, mitigate ambient noise, and fix problems caused by glass surfaces.
In unified communications (UC), the quality and effectiveness of your conferencing is a dance among all the aspects of your entire network. It starts at the “near end,” or, your own conference space, through your bridge service and hosted IP PBX on to the “far end,” where the recipients of your pearls of wisdom will be hanging on to your every word and sharing their own thoughts and suggestions.
As with any coordinated effort, a misstep in just one part of your conference can bring the meeting to a halt. So, it saves time and money to make sure the entire path from near end to far end is easily traversed.
First, let’s assume the technology is robust: You have a stable broadband connection, a correctly-configured network, and everything is plugged in. (Yes, check that.) After that, the place to start for a quality communication experience is the room in which you sit.
Productivity ceases during a poorly-executed conference. The worst problem faced in any conference is the people on the other end can’t hear or understand what is being said on your end. It’s the ultimate fail. If your conferences are punctuated with lots of “What did you say?” and “I didn’t get that,” it is time to go back to the basics.
- Does your conferencing system match the size, configuration, and function of your room?
- Do you have a loud HVAC unit, traffic noise, or other ambient sound that’s interfering with your calls?
- Does your room feature glass or concrete walls?
Let’s tackle these issues one at a time.
A conference room, or any area where web or phone conferencing will be conducted, should be acoustically optimized. Seating and table space should be located appropriately for both speakers and microphones. Ideally, no conferee should be more than four to six feet away from a microphone, and the speaker system should be adequate to fill the room with sound. There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution, so be aware that specific products are for specific room types and specific applications. In some cases, you’ll need to position multiple, high-quality microphones to pick up all comments from meeting participants. In other cases, a single conference room phone, such as Revolabs® FLX™ UC 1000 for VolP and USB connections, will do the trick.
A variety of other factors also come into play. Consider the nature of the connections available in that room (POTS/plain old telephone service or VoIP), where people will be seated, the relative proximity to the screen or focal point, and even your décor—carpet vs. hard flooring. It can all get pretty complicated, but just remember that you need both appropriate microphone and speaker systems to make your input and output clear.
An aggressive HVAC system, hallway chatter, or traffic noise from open windows will affect sound quality adversely on both the near and far ends of your conference. Installing simple and aesthetically pleasing sound-absorbing panels on the ceiling can mitigate some of the noise, as can sound-muffling carpet and window treatments.
Once as much extraneous sound as possible has been dampened, look for noise reduction systems built into the phone’s audio electronics to isolate the relevant noise. For example, with automatic gain control, dynamic adjustment provides consistent volume to the far end, even if a conferee is leaning away or moving away from the microphone. Another feature to insist on is full duplex audio. This means that your conference audio system allows for audio playback and audio capture simultaneously, which allows multiple people to speak at the same time and still be heard. Ideally, these features should be built into the audio conferencing system so that no additional processing is required by the PC or device used to connect to it.
Architects and designers love glass walls. They’re trendy, clean, ecological, and visually striking. They are also brutal on conferencing quality. Glass and concrete walls are highly reflective surfaces that sound waves love to bounce across, which is great for creating echoes but terrible for humans who are straining to hear and interpret what their distant colleagues are saying.
Using a system with integrated acoustic echo cancellation can help negate the glass or concrete sounds, or the “fishbowl” effect. Glass may also be partly to blame for reverberation, which is when far end conference attendees hear their own voices picked up from the microphone and played back through the speaker, speaker, speaker… Adaptive echo cancellation is a smart feature that removes the bounce for cleaner, more readily-understandable audio.
If you can properly match your conferencing system to the characteristics of your near end spaces, you can ensure that your participants, wherever they are, receive the best information you have to offer.
Learn more about how Revolabs’ award-winning line of USB + VoIP conference phones enable more productive meetings at http://www.revolabs.com
By Jonathan McGarry Field Systems Engineer, Team Lead Northeast US and Canada, Revolabs, Inc.