As a professional webinar moderator, I deal with untold numbers of guest speakers. We hold rehearsal and familiarization sessions and I impress upon them the need for high quality source audio. My inviolable rule? “No speakerphones or cell phones.”
Sometimes they push back. “I really need to have my hands free to look through my papers.” “I can’t hold the phone to my ear and move the mouse at the same time.” “We want to be in the same room so we can answer questions together and have a more interactive experience.”
Sometimes they just ignore me and trust that I won’t be able to tell. They are wrong. I can always tell when someone is on a speakerphone. It has a distinctive sound that places a perceptual distance between the speaker and the listener.
But my favorite is when they call in for the live webinar and tell me they are using a speakerphone, “But it sounds fine, right?”
I sigh. Yes, it may be perfectly acceptable. Clear, good volume. Maybe a little more distant than a headset, but who cares? They settle in happily, secure in the knowledge that they were right… Their speakerphone is fine. The rules don’t apply in their case.
Then the webinar starts. And over the course of 45 minutes of unbroken presentation, the speakerphone works its old magic:
It picks up the presenter’s chair squeaking and rattling. They were sitting more still during the pre-show.
It picks up papers shuffling, fingers drumming on the table, keyboard and mouse clicking, and other people whispering in the background. Oh, let’s not forget traffic noises, sirens, and construction noises outside.
It picks up a deep bass thump that none of us can hear with our own ears. Somewhere outside or elsewhere in the building, pounding is being transmitted through the floor, into the table, and straight into the base of the phone.
It starts producing microsecond cutouts or echoes at the beginning of each sentence as the sound-activated microphone switches between send and receive.
It produces wild swings in voice volume as the presenter turns towards and away from the microphone while looking at papers, the keyboard, the screen, another screen, and the rest of the room.
A speakerphone is a marvelous piece of equipment. Use it for your conference calls, your casual conversations, your group meetings. But please stay away from it in formal presentations that represent your company to the public. It only adds more opportunities to detract from the professional image you want to convey.