Introduction: Online Meetings - How to Do Audio Right

More and more business these days is conducted online using Web meeting services like WebEx, GoToMeeting, Fuze and others. While this is great for the environment preventing unnecessary travel, it presents a whole new spate of technical challenges to those less schooled in the art of audio production. Here's a great hack I developed out of necessity one day when I found myself away from my trusty Blue "Snowball" high-quality USB podcasting microphone.

One common feature of online meeting services is that you can broadcast the audio portion of the program either on a teleconference line, or over participants computer speakers, or both. Many times, you may have a mix of participants with some listening only on speakers and some conversing two-way on the phone bridge.

This necessitates broadcasting audio through your computer in addition to through your phone. Doing this well means not using any speakerphones because that will result in echoes and feedback. Therefore, it means you need to 1) use a headset with microphone to talk and listen on the teleconference, and 2) use a second microphone to carry the audio through your computer, then through the online meeting service, and then through the computer speakers of the participants that aren't listening on the teleconference.

First of all, you want to mute your own computer's speakers, because audio from them will leak into the teleconference microphone on your headset causing feedback. Also, the audio going through your computer and over the Internet is not necessarily (nor usually) synchronized with the audio on the teleconference. So you will hear a delay if you try to listen to both. So, you need to listen and speak to one audience (usually the teleconference), and just broadcast the audio to the other audience (the online meeting viewers) by attaching an additional microphone to your computer.

High-quality USB microphones like the Blue “Snowball” are a great way to improve the online meeting audio. But, one of the great things about Web conferencing is that all you need is a mobile phone, computer, headset and WiFi to conduct your meeting. While my Dad was in the hospital, I held a nationwide Webinar for my company from the hospital parking lot, borrowing their WiFi and balancing my Mac and iPhone in my lap in the front seat! Passersby had no idea I was presenting to dozens of people around the country, nor did my Webinar participants know that I was in a hospital parking lot. Isn't technology grand!

In situations like this, where you are your own "mobile remote studio," you can use a neat trick to greatly improve the audio portion of the online meeting, even if you don't have a quality USB microphone handy. Here's what I do when I find myself "mobile."

I connect my iPhone to a power source or my Mac to ensure I don't run out of battery on long online meetings. I then use the standard Apple iPhone earbuds with built-in microphone so I can talk on the teleconference (see Fig. 1 in the photo above). I find that the stereo sound and two-way audio quality is excellent for both my own hearing, and for the audience as well. If there is too much ambient noise, I place my Bose noise-canceling headphones on top of the earbuds and they make the world melt away so I can concentrate on presenting to the audience.

I then take an old worn-out set of iPhone earbuds and plug them into my Mac's headphone jack. I don't listen through these earbuds, but I place the microphone that is part way down the wire somewhere it can easily pick up my voice (see Fig. 2). While not the same as a high-quality USB mic, this simple setup provides quite acceptable audio quality and it is much easier to carry in my backpack than a bulky USB mic.

So, armed with just a little knowledge, and a little bit of equipment, you can Webcast like a pro and run online meetings like you've been doing them all of your life. Enjoy.


Peter Radsliff
CEO , Presto Services Inc.