Conferencing Tips

Maximizing the Sound Quality on Conference Calls

Free Conference USA incorporates a number of techniques to maximize the quality and clarity of your conference calls, such as voice activity detection, which filters out background noise that is coming from non-speaking participants. We also incorporate advanced audio mixing technology, balancing sound volume from different parties on the call, and filtering out background noise on each participant connection to maximize clarity.

Mixing audio signals from multiple sources, especially for conference calls with dozens or hundreds of participants, is highly challenging, especially because any one party can introduce noise or disruptions that affects the experience for all parties. The general rule is that the quality of the conference call can be no better than the worst connection on the call.

Introducing noise.  Three common contributors to poor conference quality are the devices used to connect to the conference:

  • Speakerphones.  Most integrated speakerphones on consumer handsets are not suited for conference calls, introducing echo and collecting too much ambient background noise. There's a reason that those fancy triangular phones you see in professional conference rooms cost $500 or more. Unless you have a high-quality business-grade speakerphone, you're better off calling from separate rooms. Never use a speakerphone while you're typing on your computer next to the phone, unless you have muted your microphone. Everybody on the call will hear your tapping, seriously degrading the productivity of the conference.
  • Mobile phones.  While cellular phone quality continues to improve, when connecting into conference calls, the determining factor is the location. Calling from a quiet room into a conference call is generally fine, as long as you have a decent cellular signal. Calling from a moving vehicle, from a public place, or while outdoors, all introduce abnormally high background noise, and should be avoided as much as possible. If you need to be on the call while using your mobile phone in high-noise environments, remember to either mute your handset or press *6 (star-six) to mute your conference line. You can un-mute whenever you have something to say by pressing *6 again.
  • Computer microphones or webcams.  If you use a PC-based voice-over-IP service to call into a conference bridge (such as Skype), always use a headset. Cheap computer microphones (especially built-in microphones on laptops) collect a great amount of background noise and the combination of separate microphones and speakers introduces echo into the conference. (There is always a slight delay in sound transmission through telephone networks. Basically, the computer microphone will pick up sound coming from the computer speakers and send it back through the conference bridge.) If you hear echo on a conference call, it's not being generated from the conference bridge itself. It's being generated by one of the connected devices on the call.

Tips for eliminating or avoiding noise on conference calls

If you enter the conference bridge as a Host (by entering the star key instead of the pound sign after entering your Conference ID, then entering your 4-digit Host PIN), you can control the Conference Mode for the call. By pressing *43 (star-four-three), you can place the call in Question & Answer mode. This will immediately mute all participants (except the Host), which will eliminate the noise – unless the noise is coming from the Host. Then callers can unmute themselves by pressing *6 (star-six) when they wish to say something, and the source of the noise can be identified.

Turn off the ringer on your phone. Ringer sounds from any source completely disrupt a conference call. Most often, this happens when a participant's mobile phone rings while they are talking on a desktop phone or speakerphone. Remember to silence your cell phone when you are joining a conference call.

Be mindful of placing your line on hold when you're connected to a conference call. Depending on your phone system, this could introduce music-on-hold into the conference bridge, making it unusable until you return. Remember to mute yourself (pressing *6) prior to placing your line on hold.