Today I present a quick list of recommendations to help presenters optimize how they sound when using computer audio. Tomorrow I will follow up with a similar list for presenters using telephone audio.
Not all these recommendations are practical for every person in every situation. Do what you can, and at least be aware of how each configuration decision affects the way you sound.
On a webinar or webcast, the way attendees perceive you as a speaker is heavily influenced by the audio quality they hear. I run hundreds of webinars on different platforms, with guest speakers from around the world. In survey after survey, attendees express frustration with audio.
Remember, your audio quality only gets WORSE after it leaves your location. Web conferencing products compress the audio stream, it gets packetized and buffered and reassembled over the internet, it gets transmitted to attendees over poor quality or low speed or overloaded networks, and it plays through low-fidelity speakers. And the formal nature of a webinar or webcast makes attendees much less tolerant of glitches than they would be in a casual person-to-person conversation.
With all that working against you, what can you do to push better quality audio from your location?
- Use a hard-wired Ethernet connection rather than wireless internet. I know… It's getting damned near impossible to find wired Ethernet connections anymore. If you can manage it though, this will dramatically improve the clarity and reliability of your computer audio.
- Avoid built-in laptop speakers and microphones. The microphone on your laptop computer is terrible. It picks up every keypress you make. And it often generates feedback from your speakers. Plug in a microphone instead!
- Avoid iPhone-style earbud/microphone headsets. Do you use that little white cable with a microphone bulge in the cord? Stop it. The cord rubs against your shirt, producing noise. The microphone is also relatively insensitive. If this is absolutely your only available device, get a paperclip or small spring binder clip and attach the microphone to your collar as close to your mouth as possible. Then remember to speak towards it at all times, and not turn your head away to look at something else.
- Avoid Bluetooth wireless headsets. I know… They are tremendously convenient. But they introduce yet another compression/transmission step in the chain, lowering audio quality even before it gets to the web conference input. And they have a nasty habit of running out of power halfway through the presentation.
- Try to use a wired, USB-connected computer headset. They really aren't very expensive, and the small investment pays off in better quality and hands-free convenience. Here are three examples I found on Amazon (these links go to the US version of the site). Any of them would do just fine, and you can pick your preference for earcup design.
My professional colleagues who present or moderate a lot of webinars will wonder why I did not include a recommendation for desktop microphones. Only because they are overkill for the average occasional presenter. But if you have the space on your desk and want to set up a Blue Yeti or an AT2020 with a pop filter, go for it!
Don't forget to check tomorrow's follow-up post with similar recommendations for telephone audio.