Teleconferencing is probably the baseline requirement for a meeting space. In the simplest sense, this could be a few chairs around a table with a speaker phone in the middle.
Start increasing the size of the table and the people far enough away from the phone won’t be heard clearly by the person on the other end of the call. At that point, we need a conference phone.
These devices usually sit in the middle of a table and have an array of speakers and microphones to try extend the coverage range, so that more people in the room can participate in the call. As the distance of meeting participants from this unit increases, you will need to add additional microphones. There are several systems that allow you to daisy-chain an addition table-top microphone or two.
For larger Collaboration Spaces above this level of complexity (or if we just want to keep the room clean and not have this all this stuff sitting on top of the table), we need to integrate with the AV equipment being installed in the room. This simply means that instead of the call coming from the speakerphone, it will come through the speakers installed in the ceiling. Similarly, instead of people speaking into the microphone on the conference phone, they will simply speak into the microphones that are already in use for the room. You can tie into the existing room AV system this way, whether you are using an old school phone line, or an internet VOIP system.
At that point, the quality of the results will depend on whether the system follows the guidelines we have mentioned in other articles. Regardless, we can recommend a few…
Best Practices for Audio Conference Calls:
No Cheap Speakerphones – When several people are speaking during a meeting, hearing all of the participants clearly requires a technology called Echo Cancellation. This requires a bit of electron magic. On a two person call, we are not talking about anything very sophisticated and the cost to implement this technology is inexpensive, as soon as a requirement for more people is added, the task quickly becomes more challenging.
When In Doubt, MUTE – If you’re having problems on a call, start having the participants mute their phone when not speaking. This reduces the number of echoes that the technology has to contend with. Frequently, someone has joined a meeting with both their computer audio and a standard telephone. Having the participants mute their lines can often reveal the source of the problem.
Pay attention to microphone position – Microphones aren’t magic and they don’t know what they are supposed to hear. They will reproduce whatever sounds are loudest. Do you have a microphone near a projector on a conference table? You are going to hear a lot of fan noise. If all present at the table participate equally, make sure the microphone is centered. If one person is speaking 80% of the time, it probably makes sense to move the microphone closer to them.
Following these suggestions should help your next audio conference call run a bit more smoothly. For small to medium sized meeting spaces, technology has made this technology virtually plug and play. For larger rooms and enterprise solutions, the complexity quickly ramps exponentially. We can help clients establish strategies for these challenging spaces that maintain their enterprise standards.
The device shown at the top of this post is a Cisco 7937 IP Conference Station.