As you have learned, there are quite a few frustrating aspects of conference calls. One of the major ones is that a room itself isn’t quite suited or built for a call. There are several reasons for noise echoes, feedback, intelligible vocals, disruptions, and distractions including a room that isn’t properly secluded from the rest of the company, which can and will produce annoying background noises, or louder-than-the-norm HVAC equipment. By making a few changes to the room, you can have a perfectly tuned acoustic setting which, in turn, produces better and more productive calls.
First, you should probably learn how sound works. Click here to read a quick run-down of how sound travels/works to get a basic understanding of it.
There are three ways to improve workplace acoustics and solve workplace sound problems – here are the ABCs of acoustical perfection: Absorption, Blockage, and Cover-up. Today, we’ll start with A and cover B and C over the next few days.
A = Absorb
Have you heard of the Anechoic Chamber? This room was designed to take in every noise produced without echo or reflection. This is the idea! Acoustic absorption refers to a material, structure, or object that absorbs sound energy when sound waves collide with it. Material that reflects the energy (sound) will give you a poor conference sound. Materials that absorbing the sound will produce a lesser reverberation time which can lead to better speech intelligibility.
Reverberation is the echo effect sound makes when it bounces off the walls or other objects that fail to absorb the noise. Essentially, the energy/sound produced moves toward that object and bounces back towards the source and spread into the room. Hard surfaces (i.e. tables, concrete, glass windows, etc.) within a room provide a more reflective surface that can be detrimental to clearly hearing and understanding the audio sources being produced into the room.
To better this issue, start by getting rid of these harder surfaces. For floors, find a carpet that is more sound absorbent rather than hardwood, tile, or concrete. Even a rug can help. If there are windows or glass walls, then try to put up some curtains or shades to cover the reflective glass. Keep in mind, though, draperies typically provide very little sound absorption, but it’s better than nothing! There are also such things called acoustical ceiling tiles. Made with absorptive materials, they will most likely be necessary for the ceiling. Don’t forget: furniture can also reflect sound from their smooth surfaces like tabletops, wall cabinets, desks, etc. Wood tabletops will provide a less reflective surface than glass or marble tops.
The less sound reflection in a room, the quieter and audibly-friendly your calls become. While it is impractical (nearly impossible) to eradicate all sound reflections in a conference Room, efforts should be made to keep reflective surfaces to a minimum. In the next section, we will talk walls and how to block echoes.