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Teleconference without tears: five common problems and how to avoid them.


Poor audio can kill a teleconference.

Slightly fuzzy pictures of participants or less-than-crisp letters in viewgraphs will not ruin a meeting, but the inability to hear clearly what is said will.

Unfortunately, new users often learn this the hard way.

Teleconferencers are often unaware of what prevents intelligible audio.

They only know they don't like what they hear.

People frustrated by an inability to communicate in a teleconference are reluctant to use what is fast becoming a "must" technology for the progressive, aggressive company.

There are five common problems in audio.

Tin-Drum Syndrome

Reverberation makes the speaker in a teleconference sound as if he or she is speaking from inside a tin drum.

It is caused by the sound of a talker's voice bouncing off reflective surfaces in the room and re-entering the open microphone a few milliseconds after the initial sound.

Listeners in the talker's own room usually do not preceive the sound of the reverberation, but listeners as the other end of the conference are acutely aware of it because thyy only hear what the microphone(s) allow them to hear.

Listening to a long reverberating teleconference is tiresome and embarrasing at times.

A modern system should be able to deliver audio that does not sound hollow or reverberant.

Listen to several in your acoustic environment until you find one that delivers.

Most general business environments are acoustically challenging. Lots of hard surfaces like plaster, glass, or wooden walls. Hard ceilings. Boxy, square rooms. No curtains or other softeners.

All these things make audio systems strain to avoid picking up heavy reverberations.

You may have to change the aconstic environment to satisfy your teleconferencing users.

Room Noise

Low volume in a teleconference system means people will have a hard time hearing.

Do not confuse this insufficient volume with being unintelligible. Many people assume they need to turn up the volume. But not being able to hear may mean lack of understanding of what is being said.

Intelligibility can be affected by low, steady sounds within the room that mask the talker's speech.

The noise of a viewfoil projector, the whir of a codec, the hum of a light-fixture ballast, or the blast of an air-handling unit can interfere with intelligibility.

Remove these bothersome sounds from both sides of a teleconference, and your listeners may then be able to hear quite well at the same volume level as before.

Low Volume

If it's too quiet, you may have a poorly desined system.

Putting open microphones, loundspeakers, and taling people in a room is courting disaster in the form of feedback.

To break the acoustic loop formed by the sound coming out of loudspeakers re-entering the open microphones at the other end of your teleconference, some systems keep loudspeaker volume very low.

The less sound coming from the loudspeakers, the fewer acoustic problems one has with the open microphones.

Low volume by design is an attempt to satisfy the desire for full-duplex operation, or the ability to have simultaneous conversation between locations.

Unfortunately, these low volumes make it much more difficult to communicate.

It is hard to respond to what you cannot hear.

In addition, keeping loud-speakers at alow level may not be enough.

Any changes in transmission lines or equipment due to humidity, electronic or mechanical problems, or long distances might cause the audio system to go into feedback.


With a flawed system, you may not sound like yourself, or you're unintelligible.

This may be caused by using loudspeakers better suited to music reproduction than to voice.

Some poorly desined teleconference systems distort voice by restricting it to a narrow range they are able to handle.

The main portion of the voice range comes through, but the intelligibility-enhancing higher frequencies and the rich, flavorful low frequencies (possessed by everyone from soprano to bass) get left behind.

A monotone prevails, both boring and difficult to understand.

In an audio teleconference where listeners lack visual clues as to meaning or tone, this can be deadly.


Echo is often confused with reverberation.

It is actually caused by the transmission system your teleconference is using.

The teleconferencer can do little about this except to buy a system that can deal with the physical laws of tansmission systems.

Echo is common to the adio conference transmitted via T1 or dedicated lines.

It's also common to the two -way satellite-transmitted videoconference.

Causes are different, but the result is the same: a sound repeating itself milliseconds after the initial sound.

It gives teleconference systems fits.

Listen to your prospective system as it tries to deal with the transmission system you will be using (in reality or in a simulated situation).

Some teleconference systems try to process the echo but end up giving you a "gritchy" noise in its place.

In a videoconference especially, listen for the "gritch."

Open Your Ears

Each of these five problems relates to physical laws that simply will not disappear.

All teleconference systems deal with these problems, some more successfully than others.

Each of the five problems is readily heard even by the nontechnical user.

Listen until you find the teleconference system free of these problems.

Listen in your own acoustic environment, your own conference room, your own office.

Listen to the branch office you'll be speaking with.

Listen on a handset, then on the teleconference system.

Hear the differences.

Listen to a teleconference system at an in-house extension. Then across town or across the country.

Losten to what effect distance may have on your teleconference.

Listen until you are satisfied that the teleconference system you choose can deal effectively with the problems you'll hear.

Each environment is different.

Each teleconference system works differently in different environments.

Find the one that works best for you.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Willett, D.N.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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