Audio and visual conference solutions are so effective at enabling better collaboration and better communication that they are found just about everywhere. No matter the industry, no matter the size or scope of the business, there’s a good reason to adopt audio and visual conference technology. But technology can occasionally be fickle, as anyone who has worked with it knows. Fortunately, proper planning prevents poor performance, so as long as there is a plan B in place, collaboration can still happen even when the technology isn’t exactly cooperating.
Going Off Without a Hitch
There are plenty of reasons why companies should make conferencing solutions a part of their process. There are too many reasons to count, really. However, this isn’t going to be an exhaustive list about what conferencing brings to a company. By now, most business leaders understand that strong collaboration is the foundation for their continued success. Instead, let’s address what to do when the technology gets a bit ornery. It’s bound to happen eventually, but it’s how leaders react to a technological hiccup that limits the problem.
The goal, clearly, is to produce audio and video calls that are as high-quality and as stable as possible. Everything else is secondary. When an audio and visual conference solution is working properly, like it does the vast majority of the time, high-quality and stable calls are the norm. When there are problems with either, though, the cause can be tough to pinpoint. Where to look? First, some general guidelines about ensuring a smooth conferencing experience:
- Accept the internet’s limitations – Even the best designed conferencing solution has to rely on the internet to function, and the internet occasionally acts like an untamed beast. If there are problems with the company’s network, don’t pursue conferencing solutions until those problems are worked out. It’s only going to end in frustration and confusion otherwise. Also, be prepared to switch to another medium in the event that the internet goes down. This is good advice even if a company enjoys extremely stable and fast connection speeds. Murphy’s Law and ISPs seem to run in the same circles at times.
- Pick a conferencing solution that works for everyone – There are dozens of audio and visual conference solutions to choose from, and they vary in their stability, call quality and usability. A particular solution may work great for one team member, but another can’t seem to get a decent connection anywhere in their home. With the myriad of factors that can determine connection stability, even trusted services like Skype for Business can provide performance levels that vary from person to person.So, don’t dive into a conferencing solution until every team member has had a chance to get their hands on it. Once everyone is comfortable with the interface and call quality, then it’s time to start planning those project meetings.
- If it isn’t broke, don’t change it – Although business leaders should always be on the lookout for a better product, don’t move to a different platform if there’s a real chance that the new portal isn’t going to get use. Once a company has its conferencing solutions nailed down, it may seem like changing them up isn’t such a big deal. But, again, even the most reputable conferencing platforms may not be optimal for every team member. It can take some time to get all the foibles of a new system down, and during that interim, collaboration will probably take a hit. That’s not to say that companies should never evaluate other conferencing options, but rollout a new system carefully, and get plenty of feedback from the team along the way. It’s essential that everyone is enthusiastic about it, because if they are not, the system won’t be used.
- Make a backup plan and be ready to employ it – If the worst-case scenario should come to pass and it’s not possible to execute a video conferencing session, be ready to pivot to a solution that is inherently reliable. Connection speed issues, for example, are behind most call quality problems, and that’s not something that can be resolved right away. Be prepared for this by having something like a dial-in audio conference service ready, as they tend to be very stable. And when the network goes down entirely, be ready for a direct phone to phone call.
- Don’t treat people outside the team like they are in the team – When putting together a call that involves outsiders, keep it as simple as possible. This is especially true if the call represents the first point of contact with the outside party. First impressions matter, and it’s much more important to get right into the conversation instead of having them fiddle with their camera or microphone settings for 15 minutes. The best way to approach this is to initiate the call with a reliable, easy to use service, and once introductions are made, ask if they would prefer to switch to a full audio and visual conversation. There’s no doubt that comprehensive video conferencing is the most natural way to have a conversation, outside of a true face to face meeting, but it’s best not to start a professional relationship by going through a list of instructions.
- Know how to set equipment up for optimal conversation quality – Once someone gets accustomed to audio and visual conference solutions, they have an intuitive sense of how to operate the software to get the best possible call. For those who are green when it comes to the technology, consider a few simple equipment and process tips.One, remember that a wired connection is almost always going to beat a wireless connection when it comes to signal strength and stability. This is true for pretty much every piece of equipment that relies on a network connection. It’s true when connecting a PC to the internet, and it’s true when connecting a set of headphones to the PC. If downstream or upstream speeds are a concern at all, make sure there is an option to switch to a wired connection if the wireless isn’t providing enough oomph.
Two, know how to quickly mute and unmute a microphone through the conferencing software’s interface. It’s amazing what can be picked up by modern microphones, and a meeting member may not realize that their breathing or fidgeting is being broadcast to everyone in the meeting. Those minor sounds can add up to a major drag on the conversation, so err on the side of caution and mute the mic when not speaking. After getting the timing down, muting and unmuting won’t affect the flow of the conversation.
Three, if people are connecting to the call from their desks, use headsets with microphones instead of relying on a desk mic or an onboard mic. The close proximity of the audio input and output will result in feedback if they are exposed to each other. A basic headset is effective at preventing feedback, and is easy enough to configure. Obviously, if collaboration and conferencing is assigned to a meeting space, then desk or ceiling mics arranged in concert with the room’s acoustics are the superior solution.
That’s the semi-brief rundown of how to keep conferencing hiccups to a minimum. But specifically, what are some quick fixes to common problems with conferencing hardware and software? We’re talking about the first layer of equipment here, not the audio controllers, amplifiers and coding software that may require a little more expertise to handle. Fortunately, the majority of conferencing issues exist at a basic level, so they can be fixed without extensive technical knowledge.
The Troubleshooting Basics
Most problems with a conference call boil down to issues with the audio or video input or output, or issues with the software (most of which is delivered through an internet browser).
Some common input/output issues include audio that sounds very faint, audio that comes with echo, a failure to deliver audio to other meeting participants and choppy video. The audio issues can usually be resolved by reviewing the microphone’s settings, determining that the right input is selected and that it is registering the speaker’s voice (microphones come with a test function that will verify this), or connecting the mic to a different port.
If there are persistent problems with choppy or dropped video, on either side of the call, then the issue is likely bandwidth limitations. Reduce any downloads or uploads, close anything that’s competing for internet speed and consider upgrading to faster internet speeds if need be.
Simple, right? Most problems really can be managed with some easy troubleshooting methods, and if the problem goes beyond anything simple, an A/V integrator can provide the in-depth knowledge needed to keep the system running as it should.