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6 tips to controlling background noise in your video meetings

Yes, the visual your webcam projects is one part of virtual communication. But how well can everyone hear you?

6 tips to controlling background noise in your video meetings
[Photo: Robert Gramner/Unsplash]

These days, do you find yourself becoming the “master of the mute button?” Are you faced with too much background noise and poor sound quality throughout your at-home videoconferences?

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“Shelter-in-place,” employer recommendations, and other health agency orders have many of us working indoors from home and relying on internet-based teleconferencing tools. Background noise from battling siblings, barking dogs, and other equally noisy distractions can impact the fluidity of videoconferences (as well as your nerves).

The need for good acoustical background conditions is becoming increasingly important to pave the way for clear and effective communication in a remote-work setting. Not everyone can create an office soundstage in the basement (a room with particularly flattering acoustics), but there are some simple, low-cost hacks to help control the level of noise around your workspace.

Below are six tips to help you lower the volume (and maybe even your blood pressure) while working from home.

1. Favor using a room with window drapes, a carpet or rug, and furniture

Porous fabrics have varying degrees of acoustical absorption, meaning they help diminish sound waves that would otherwise bounce around a “hard” room, filled with smooth, reflective surfaces. The more material there is—such as pleats in window drapes, which provide lots of surface area—the more sound can be absorbed.

2. Keep the pets and kids in other rooms, behind closed doors, if possible

Creating boundaries while working from home is a key for dividing your workspace from your home space. Moreover, your videoconference partners will appreciate the added quiet.

This will help acoustically isolate the area in your home for work communication by lowering the level of background noise. Your voice, as well as other sounds from your technology’s speaker, will sound clearer and easier to understand.

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Understandably, not everyone has enough room at home to create a separate home office space, but the more separate the space is from the source of the noise, the better.

3. Improve a room’s acoustical absorption

One way to dampen extraneous noise and keep it from impacting a videoconference is to hang a blanket or quilt behind you. Not only will it provide some sound absorption, but it will also provide a visual background for your videoconference. It is an easy addition that will significantly improve the sound quality of your videoconference.

4. Locate fans, air conditioners, and other noise-makers at reasonable distances from microphones

Summer is coming, so you’ll either open doors and windows for natural ventilation, or close things up and rely on air-conditioning. The former will let outdoor noise in, and the latter introduces an overpowering noise to your virtual space that may feel commonplace in your physical space.

Keep in mind that your smartphone or computer microphone will likely pick up the sound from an operating fan or AC compressor if it’s too close. A simple test of your technology’s audio is to ask people on the videoconference if they can hear your fan or other cooling equipment. The simplest tactic is to either turn down the fan or AC, or move the appliance farther away from your computer microphone.

5. Use good lighting

Not an entirely sound-based tip, but it’s well known that how intelligible your speech comes across is greatly improved when someone can see your mouth and your facial expressions. Make sure your face is well lit on a videoconference. Avoid placing bright light sources, such as windows, directly behind you, since that will make it more difficult to see your face.

6. Simply move closer to the microphone or use a headset

The most common problem with videoconferencing audio quality has a super easy fix: Move closer to the microphone when you’re speaking.

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Often, we forget or are not aware where the microphone is on our laptop. The farther away we are from the mic, the poorer the audio during a videoconference.

Using a headset conveniently puts the microphone next to your mouth and will mostly pick up your voice over noisy background sounds.

Without fail, you can always tell who is using the laptop or the mic on their webcam. They sound distant or thin, and their voice reverberates—they are the party who must constantly master muting and unmuting through the meeting.

To achieve crystal clear sound during a videoconference, you don’t need to turn your bedroom into an audio recording studio and quarantine your children and the dog.  Through these adjustments to your sound quality, you can improve your home office’s background acoustics and make it easier for everyone in the videoconference to hear each other.


Mike Bahtiarian is the president of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering. He has 20 years of noise control engineering experience and is also a principal consultant at ACENTECH.

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