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WORK FROM HOME

How to Make Professional Sounding Conference Calls from Home

Conference calls are one of the primary forms of communication for most remote employees. That’s why crystal-clear sound is so important. In fact, poor audio quality during a conference call is like an email full of typos and grammatical mistakes—unclear and unprofessional. But with great sound, you can get your point across loud and clear. In this guide, we’ll show you the essential audio tools and techniques you need to help you make conference calls more productive, professional, and enjoyable.

Topics in this Guide:

  1. How to Improve Conference Call Audio
  2. What Type of Microphone Is Best for Conference Calls?
  3. Best Webcams for Conference Calls
  4. Best Conference Call Software
  5. Mic Placement Tips and Tricks for Conference Calls
  6. Microphone Settings Tips and Tricks for Conference Calls
  7. Finding The Best Room For Conference Calls
  8. How to Set Up For A Conference Call
  9. Conference Call Etiquette
  10. Tips for Improving Productivity on Conference Calls
  11. How to Conduct a Conference Call

How to Improve Conference Call Audio

Capture pristine audio quality for conference calls with Blue USB microphones

You don’t have to spend a fortune to improve the audio quality of your conference calls. With some very affordable hardware and a few simple tricks, you can ensure your message always comes through loud and clear.

Built-in laptop microphones are convenient for quick chats with your friends and family, but they’re not designed for in-depth discussion where details are important. Due to their fixed position near the keyboard, laptop microphones make your voice sound distant and hollow, and often capture excessive background noise—especially typing noises, which make it difficult to take notes.

When it comes to your career, you need a microphone that delivers professional results. External microphones are custom-designed for capturing clear vocals and can be easily moved to find the perfect position for optimal sound quality. Most conference call microphones use noise-canceling technology to help eliminate background noise as well.

Here are some quick tips for improving your conference call sound quality:

Top 5 Tips for Improving Skype Call Audio

  • Use a high-quality conference call microphone
  • Wear headphones to prevent echo or feedback
  • Use proper microphone placement
  • Use the right microphone settings
  • Find a quiet place to set up

When it comes to conference calls, there are two must-have pieces of equipment: an external microphone and webcam. Most modern computers come with built-in microphones and webcams, but these devices are often limited in terms of quality and flexibility.

A dedicated conference call microphone can improve vocal clarity as well as help eliminate distracting background noises. An external webcam helps you look more professional and communicate more clearly using body language. Together, these devices help you connect with your co-workers instead of scrolling through social media with your mic muted.

What Type of Microphone Is Best for Conference Calls?

Snowball iCE plug and play USB microphone for conference calls and VOIP

When choosing a microphone for conference calls, there are three basic options: USB, XLR and Bluetooth headsets. Let’s take a look at the differences between each type to help you find the mic that’s right for you. 

USB microphones

USB microphones like Yeti Nano or Snowball are super simple to set up. Just plug them into your computer’s USB port and your conference call software should connect automatically. Most USB microphones include adjustable desktop stands that make it easy to find the perfect mic placement. Many USB microphones feature adjustable pickup patterns, making them perfect for solo or group calls. Since they don’t require any additional gear, USB microphones often include gain controls and headphone outputs directly on the mic itself, making them ideal for employees working on the go.

XLR microphones

XLR microphones like Blackout Spark SL and Ember let you interface with professional audio equipment like mixers and signal processors, making them a great choice for work-from-home professionals with audio-related interests like music recording, podcasting, game streaming or creating YouTube videos. However, XLR microphones require a little more equipment to set up. Since there’s no USB cable, XLR mics need an audio interface to connect to your computer.

Bluetooth headsets

Bluetooth headsets provide the most mobility of any conference microphone, making them a solid choice for people who like to multitask. With a Bluetooth headset, you can hop on a call during your commute, your workout or even while you’re making lunch. And since headsets include both a microphone and at least one earphone, you don’t need to purchase any additional gear.

Best Webcams for Conference Calls

Upgrade to a Logitech webcam for HD-quality conference calls

For videoconference calls, looking professional is just as important as sounding professional. Using a webcam with grainy, low-res video is like showing up to a pitch meeting with mustard on your shirt.

Most built-in laptop cameras have limited video quality. Plus, the camera is stuck in that awful position staring up at you from below, which is nobody’s most flattering angle. External HD webcams offer the best image quality and the most flexibility for conference calls.

When shopping for a webcam, there are three main elements to consider: resolution, frame rate, and features.

Resolution

When it comes to resolution, the higher the better. Resolution measures the number of pixels a camera can use to form an image. With more pixels, a camera can capture more detailed video. HD webcams are pretty affordable these days with plenty of 720p options under $100. Obviously, 1080p and 4K Ultra HD webcams will provide better image quality, but 720p works well for meetings.

Frame Rate

Frame rate is the number of individual frames or images that are displayed per second by your webcam. Higher frame rates offer smoother video. The minimum frame rate for video streaming is 15 fps, but 30 or 60 fps tend to look more natural.

Features

Most modern webcams are tricked out with features for automatically improving your video quality. When searching for a webcam to use for conference calls, a privacy lens is a must. When you work from home, you need a little peace of mind that there’s separation between those two worlds, and the privacy lens ensures you never accidentally on-screen. Autofocus is great for keeping the image sharp no matter where you’re sitting, while automatic light adjustment keeps you looking your best in any lighting environment.

Here are some of our favorite webcams for professional conference call video:

  • Logitech C270 and the wireless C310 feature 720p resolution, 30 fps at an attractive price tag.
  • Logitech C525 or the travel-friendly B525 offer 720p resolution at 30 fps in a portable, fold-and-go design.
  • The Logitech C920S delivers full HD video quality with 1080p resolution at 30 fps. It also offers a wide field of view for capturing the whole scene when you’re on camera and a privacy cover for when you’re not.
  • Both the Logitech C930e and C925e feature full HD video with 1080p resolution at 30 fps, along with useful features like Autofocus, Auto-Light Correction and a built-in privacy lens. The C930e offers a wide field of view and an extensive zoom, making it a great solution for dedicated conference rooms.
  • Logitech BRIO is the ultimate webcam for conference calls, with 4K Ultra HD video, frame speeds up to 90 fps and an array of useful features like Autofocus, Auto-Light Correction and more.

Best Conference Call Software

Skype is one of the most popular choices for conference call software

Now that you’ve got your microphone, your webcam and a fresh cup of coffee, it’s time to set up a conference call. The specific steps you take to configure your new equipment will depend on which conference call software you use. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Skype – the most popular conference call software
  • Zoom – a browser-based solution for hosting online conference calls
  • UberConference – a free conference call service with no pins or software required
  • Webex – a fully integrated videoconferencing solution from Cisco
  • Google Hangouts – Google’s platform for messaging, video chat and VOIP calls

Mic Placement Tips and Tricks for Conference Calls

For best results, the microphone should be 6 to 12 inches away

Unfortunately, an external conference call microphone may not solve all of your call quality issues. Some problems, like excessive background noise or popping, can be caused by poor mic placement. Thankfully, these issues can usually be corrected with a few simple tips.

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you need to do is make sure you’re speaking into the correct end of the microphone. Not all microphones work the same. Most condenser microphones are side-address microphones, which means they pick up sound from the side—typically the side with the logo. When you speak into the top of the mic, it can only hear the reflection of your voice, causing you to sound far away.

However, dynamic microphones are typically front-address, meaning you speak directly into the top of the mic like you’re singing karaoke. For more information about condenser and dynamic microphones, check out our FAQ page.

Your voice may also sound distant if you’re too far away from the microphone. Ideally, the mic should be 6 to 12 inches away from your mouth. Placing the mic any closer can make your voice sound boomy, so be sure to keep a proper distance. If you’re using a desktop stand, you may need to angle the mic upward toward your mouth to help capture a more direct sound.

Microphone Settings Tips and Tricks for Conference Calls

Blue Sherpa makes it easy to control microphone settings right from your desktop

In order to suit a wide range of applications, some conference call microphones are equipped with a variety of switchable settings to fine-tune your sound. Many condenser mics feature selectable pickup patterns, also known as polar patterns, which control what the microphone hears. Each polar pattern captures a different area around the mic for a slightly different sound.

  • The cardioid pickup pattern only captures sound directly in front of the microphone, for a crisp, clear sound.
  • Bidirectional mode captures sound from both the front and back of the microphone, making it ideal for calls with multiple people in the same room.
  • The omnidirectional setting captures sound from all around the microphone, making it an excellent choice for group conference calls.

After choosing a pickup pattern, you’ll need to adjust the microphone gain to make sure everyone can hear you loud and clear. Think of gain as “microphone sensitivity”—the higher the gain, the more sensitive the microphone becomes. If the gain is turned down too low, you’ll be too quiet and no one will be able to hear you. If the gain is turned up too high, you run the risk of “clipping,” which causes nasty or harsh-sounding distortion. 

Clipping occurs when your level meters are in the red, so it’s important to do a quick soundcheck before every call. Speak at your normal speaking volume and increase the gain until the level meter starts to turn yellow or orange, then turn it back down a bit.

Finally, plug in your headphones and adjust the headphone level so you can clearly hear everyone else. It’s important to use closed-back headphones or earbuds when on a conference call. If you try to use speakers, your microphone will pick up the audio and cause everyone else on the call to hear an echo. Or even worse, it could create feedback. You know, that awful squealing sound you hear sometimes at concerts? Yeah, you don’t want to be that person on the conference call.

Finding The Best Room For Conference Calls

Make calls from a calm, quiet place with plenty of cushioned objects

As anyone who’s ever had a conference call interrupted by their kid will tell you, your location has a huge impact on your audio quality too. Try to find somewhere nice and quiet where you won’t be interrupted. Coffee shops and work share environments are great for getting out of the house, but they can be noisy.

However, working from home has its disadvantages too—whether it’s a barking dog, a blaring car alarm, or someone mowing their lawn right outside your window at 9:15 am. Try to find a space in your house that’s isolated from interruptions and excessive noise.

The size of the room also has a lot to do with your sound. If the room is too small, it can cause a short echo, which will probably make people ask if you’re Skyping from the bathroom. But, recording in a room too large can make it sound like you’re recording in a cave. Try to find a nice, medium-sized room with a fair amount of cushioned objects, like couches, and curtains, to help prevent sound reflections.

How to Set Up For A Conference Call

Snowball iCE delivers crystal-clear audio quality that’s light-years ahead of your built-in computer microphone

All too often, conference calls get delayed and cut short due to lack of preparation. That’s why it’s vital to set up and test out your equipment at least 15 minutes before the start of your call. Check out our step-by-step guide to setting up for a conference call:

  1. Plug in your microphone and webcam
  2. Open up your conference call software and go to preferences/settings and make sure your external microphone and webcam are selected
  3. Your microphone should be sitting on your desk, 6 to 12 inches from your face and angled up towards your mouth
  4. Test your sound levels by speaking at your normal volume and adjusting the gain on your microphone so that your signal is loud and clear without causing the meters to turn red
  5. Test your video settings and adjust your camera to make sure you’re clearly in frame with minimal distractions
  6. If you’re using a conference call service, join the call 3 to 5 minutes before the start time to greet people as they join.

Conference Call Etiquette

Conference call etiquette is critical to professionalism

If you’re looking for a distraction in the late afternoon, do a quick search for conference call etiquette horror stories—you won’t be disappointed. From forgetting to mute before you flush to trash-talking the boss while they’re still on the line, there are plenty of ways to embarrass yourself on a conference call. Here are our top five conference call etiquette mistakes to avoid at all costs:

  • Poor sound quality
  • Forgetting about your mute setting
  • Not silencing cellphone or computer notifications
  • Joining a meeting without preparing first
  • Not taking notes (or not paying attention)

Tips for Improving Productivity on Conference Calls

Increase your conference call productivity with these 5 effective tips

Nothing feels like a bigger waste of time than an unproductive conference call. It’s exhausting to set aside an hour and accomplish absolutely nothing. That time could have been used for something important, like finishing up a project, watching YouTube videos or checking out the lunch specials at your local taco spot.

Check out our top tips for productive conference calls:

  1. Send a calendar invite to each guest (in the correct time zone!)
  2. Confirm who will be calling whom, and at what number
  3. Write an agenda for your conference call and stick to it
  4. Assign someone to take minutes or record the conversation (just make sure to get everyone’s consent before recording)
  5. Test your equipment 10 to 15 minutes before the call begins

How to Conduct a Conference Call

Blue Yeti USB microphone for professional-sounding conference calls

Between callers dropping in and out, people talking over one another and trying to manage everyone’s opinions, conducting a conference call can feel like conducting a circus sometimes. But with a little preparation, you can make sure your conference calls run smoothly from start to finish. Here are some of our favorite strategies for leading productive, rewarding conference calls.

How to Start a Conference Call

Assuming you followed the tips above, you should have your agenda prepared and your equipment set up before the call is scheduled to begin. As people join the call, have them announce their presence so you can great each guest by name. Tell a relevant story or simply make small talk to fill the time as people continue to join. If there are any new members to the call, be sure to introduce them to the other members of the team.

Once everyone has arrived, go over the agenda and make sure everyone has a copy so they can follow along. Make sure that your guests know to clearly state their name before speaking, so there’s no confusion. If there are two callers with the same first name, identify how you will refer to each of them.

Conducting the Call

After starting the call, be sure to follow your agenda to ensure all of your goals are met within the scheduled timeframe. Write down any questions you have so you won’t forget them, and take notes on any action points so you can determine your next steps. When speaking to others, make sure you address participants by name when asking a question or encourage them to speak.

One of the most powerful tools for improving the quality of your conference calls is the mute button. It can incredibly distracting for people trying to talk or listen when there’s excessive background noise. While you may not be able to hear the problem in your headphones, things like your heat or AC, typing on the keyboard, or even ambient sounds outside your window can drown out important information on a call. That’s why it’s important to stay muted when you’re not speaking. Just remember to un-mute yourself when you have something to say.

If you do experience audio problems while on a call, let the other attendees know so they can try to correct the issue. And remember, it’s ok to politely ask the caller to repeat themselves if you have difficulty understanding something.

After addressing the points on your agenda, stop and take time to ask if there are any questions. Make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and contribute their opinions—just try to avoid multiple people speaking at the same time.

Ending the call

At the end of the conference, recap your key points and make sure no one has any additional questions. Address any action points so that everyone knows which steps to take next. Provide your contact info if necessary, so any guests can reach out to you with further questions.