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The Importance Of Audio Quality For Conference Calls

There’s no denying the power of the conference call, and there’s plenty of statistics to back this up. They are powerful tools for retaining talented employees, according to a Stanford University study. That study found that employee turnover dropped more than 50 percent when employees were allowed to work from home and collaborate through conference calls. They also drive efficiency, as that same study also found that remote workers were more productive when conference calling from home. When the proper conference call technology is installed, and it’s properly configured, a conference call is an inexpensive, effective communication tool. When audio quality issues intrude, though, conference calls can do more harm than good. Ask any AV integrator what the number one priority is for a conference call, and they’ll say “good audio quality.” It’s not a surprise that audio quality is essential when conference calling, but even that understates its importance.

Workers struggle with poor audio quality

Poor audio quality poses several problems, to the employees on the call and for the company’s image. How does it affect your team?
  • Impaired cognitive functioning – When audio quality drops, listeners must devote more energy to processing what is being said. This is termed “effortful listening,” and it is linked to poor memory encoding and higher stress levels. Poor audio quality reduces your team’s ability to operate at a high level, which is particularly troublesome during strategy meetings.
  • Reduced focus – If poor audio quality is a problem, it’s likely that background noise is at least part of it. If ambient noise isn’t suppressed during a call, it will distract participants to the point where they will have trouble remembering what is being said. Biologists have long known that our sense of hearing is less effective at multitasking than our sense of sight. Normally, our ears focus on the loudest or most persistent sound, and if that’s background noise, those ears aren’t focusing on the speaker.
  • Physiological symptoms – Being subjected to poor quality calls means the brain and ears are working extra hard to retain information. If parts of the conversation are difficult to hear, the brain must compensate by filling in the blanks. It’s no surprise, then, that workers are more likely to report headaches and fatigue after a difficult conference call.
That’s the impact of poor audio quality on workers, but that may not be the worst of it.

Your company’s credibility could also be at stake

The most alarming pieces of research regarding poor audio quality come from the University of Southern California (USC) and Australian National University (ANU). The USC study presented two YouTube videos to participants, with both of them being conference speaking events. The first video offered strong audio quality, while audio quality was reduced for the second video. The results were stark – when poor audio quality was introduced, the speaker’s credibility, their perceived intelligence and the importance of the talk dropped dramatically. What’s interesting about this study is that even with video present, poor audio quality still had an negative effect on the listener. The ANU study was built on different methodology. In this study, participants listened to the same NPR interview twice, once with high audio quality and once with low audio quality. When listening to the low quality version, participants responded much more negatively, even producing negative opinions of research presented in the interview. If your conference calls are suffering from reduced audio quality, the above problems could become your company’s problems. That could have a devastating effect on how well the business attracts and retains clients. If one of the first impressions of the company is a garbled conference call, it’s a terrible impression to make.

How to avoid an audio quality conundrum

The good news is that poor audio quality is completely solvable, as long as the right person is doing the solving. Reputable AV integrators have years or decades of experience in resolving the most common audio quality issues, like background noise, interfering acoustics or poorly configured equipment. If your company is looking for a conference call solution, an AV integrator can assist with selecting, installing and configuring the equipment so that it produces crystal clear call quality. AV integrators have specialized tools to help them in this endeavor. For example, an audio specialist with the integrator can diagram the room’s acoustics to determine where sound is traveling through the space. This can provide deep insight into what changes or additions need to be made to mitigate poor audio quality. The solution may be adding soundproof materials or baffles, or removing hard surfaces from the room, as sound bounces off of those surfaces most often. Another solution is to upgrade the conference call hardware your company uses. Conferencing tools from leading brands like Poly (formerly Polycom) are built with numerous audio quality enhancing features. For example, Poly’s Acoustic Fence technology uses any onboard microphones to create a boundary. Any sounds entering this boundary are suppressed, while any sounds inside the boundary are enhanced. The important audio is the audio that makes it to the speaker. Businesses should not underestimate the effect of poor audio quality on conference calls. It’s bad for employees and bad for the business. Fortunately, there’s no need to live with poor audio, as AV integrators can produce a positive solution for every negative audio situation.