Written by Jessica Sirkin,

Often, when people think of sound in meetings, they think of crinkling candy wrappers and tapping fingers. Distractions. Audio technology, however, is the most important element of a conference call. When used properly, it ensures that the right sounds are the focus of the call, not the distractions.

On conference calls, people waste a lot of time repeating themselves for participants who can’t hear them well enough. Muffled speech and background noise are the bane of productive conference calls. By improving audio quality, companies can make sure that every person on a conference call is heard clearly. This increases both efficiency and productivity.

Both internal and client-facing meetings can benefit from improved conference call sound quality. While you may prefer to meet with clients face to face, that isn’t always possible for global businesses. Frequently, a new client’s first impression of your business is your presence on a conference call.

A seamless, professional-sounding conference call helps you present your company the way you want it to be perceived. First impressions can determine how much business a client or inventor wants to do with you. Having high-quality sound for conference calls isn’t just a matter of convenience. It’s good business.

Here are five tips for improving the audio quality of your conference calls.

There is nothing more embarrassing than starting a conference call only to realize you don’t know how to use your audio equipment. This can mean long delays, wasted time, dropped calls, or a conference call where no one can hear anyone else.

Since conference calls are often chances to make good first impressions, it’s important that you can demonstrate competence and efficiency with your audio technology. Before you use your conference room audio equipment for the first time, do a test run of all functions with a colleague. Make sure you know how to use every aspect of your audio technology correctly before the real call.

For conference calls, pick a room with solid walls where you can’t hear what’s happening next door. Avoid rooms with noisy HVAC systems or open windows. Don’t flip through pages on the table. Silence all cell phones. If your phone is on vibrate, keep it in your pocket, not on a hard surface where it will make noise. All of these common background sounds make it harder for participants to hear the speaker.

Reducing ambient noise is particularly important for audio-only conferencing. Since remote participants can’t see you, they easily can be distracted by background noise with no visual context. This takes their attention away from the speaker. A truly professional-sounding conference call has minimal ambient noise so that participants can stay focused on the speaker.

In addition, if your chosen AV conferencing setup has an intuitive control system and works on an existing network infrastructure it can be up and running quickly and will be easily understood by users. With statistics claiming that it can take participants in excess of 10 minutes to set up an AV conference each time they use the system, investing in an easy to use platform will save time, increase efficiency and develop user acceptance.

While all of this may sound like a no-brainer to pretty much any business, to achieve such positive results it is essential that a business invests in the right infrastructure and puts in place systems that allow people to work naturally and efficiently no matter where they are located. In addition, these systems must be reliable and easy to use if staff of all ages and abilities are going to be willing to embrace them.

Sharing microphones seems like an easy cost saver, but it decreases sound quality for everyone. If you place one microphone between two participants, they often end up speaking into the sides. Conferencing microphones usually are not designed to pick up sound sources from the sides.

Passing microphones back and forth wastes time. Plus, while they’re being passed, they’re picking up both handling noise and all the ambient noises in their path. Furthermore, if you have a video component to your conference call, sharing and passing microphones does not look professional.

However, high-quality microphones are not the only consideration; time must also be taken to select the correct speakers for the room and, crucially, ensure they are placed in the correct position for the shape and style of room. A system setup for a huddle room almost certainly won’t be effective for a large boardroom or an open plan space. This means that thought must be given to how the system will be used, who will be using it and what outcomes the business is trying to achieve through this investment before any kit is chosen and installed. Once you have answered these questions it will be easier to develop a system that works for your needs and is genuinely effective, rather than one that simply looks good in your meeting space.

Effective AV conferences are productive, collaborative and engaging, and the right technology will ensure this is the case at each and every meeting.

People tend to assume that if there’s a microphone anywhere in the room, it will pick up their voices clearly. Microphones designed to pick up speech are directional, however. That means that they pick up sound best from one direction: the front.

If you speak into the side of the microphone, near the microphone, or next to your neighbor’s microphone, your voice will be hard to hear. Position the microphone directly in front of you, face it toward you, and then speak directly into the front. This will give you crisp, clear sound.

When it comes to A/V technology, it’s easy to focus on the “video” part and forget about audio. Sound has always been a part of conference calls, while video, for many, is still an exciting new trend. People frequently put all of their budget into video technology and don’t leave enough for high-quality audio.

Here’s the biggest problem with that approach: while you can have a conference call without video, as soon as the sound goes out—unless everyone involved speaks sign language—the conference call is over. If you need to ensure one element of your A/V conference call technology will work reliably, choose the more essential part: the audio.

Jessica Sirkin

Jessica Sirkin is a freelance writer and editor. She has previously written for publications such as SearchOracle.com, SearchSQLServer.com, and SAP Professional Journal. She shares her office with a mischievous pet rabbit and lots of books. In her free time, she writes science fiction.