Audio is the Achilles heel of webinars, as well as other forms of content — like podcasts, teleseminars, and videos — that rely on clear sound. We have all heard poor audio, and it’s really a turnoff — not to mention how poorly it impacts engagement. For any virtual event, audio is critical to connecting with your audience. But attaining quality audio involves more than just technology; it has to do with four key interactive considerations: human, technological, environmental, and logistical factors.
These involve things like:
- Understanding the human factors that help you communicate your message
- Optimizing the audio technology value chain
- Creating the best sound environment for presenters
- Logistical planning for sound checks and rehearsals
Let’s explore the five things you must know about audio that will help you deliver high performing – high impact webinars — a tactic that will meet (or exceed) your business goals, as well your audience’s expectations. You can also apply this information to other audio-based content where good audio is a critical factor for success.
1. Use your voice to your advantage
There are all kinds of analogies about what a webinar is like, but I prefer to think of them as radio shows with pictures. Radio has a unique power when it comes to engagement: appealing voices reach out and connect with audiences through thought-provoking conversations, storytelling, and great sound. Webinars share these same characteristics — they are a way to connect with people and inspire them to want to extend the conversation with you, directly.
How do we connect with people and create a positive impression? Whether it is in-person or virtual, people prefer being entertained to being educated. So stimulating a person emotionally is the first step toward creating a positive audio impression. Presenters who want to leverage the human factors that connect with an audience will focus on speaking with emotion, using inflections, varying the pace at which they speak, and varying their vocal tone in their audio content.
2. Maximize your audience’s audio experience with the right technology
You may have prepared the best webinar content ever, but if your audience cannot comfortably hear what you are saying, the whole experience will be diminished, if not outright ruined. Engaging audio starts with faithful reproduction of the presenter’s voice and natural-sounding fidelity. In simple terms, this means the presenter uses quality equipment. The presenter’s audio value chain should consist of the following:
- Computing platforms: As a presenter, broadcast from the fastest computer with the most memory you can find.
- Internet connection speed: Strive for the fastest broadband internet connection available because network speed affects audio quality. From a webinar perspective, there is a phenomenon called system latency, which can cause a small, but noticeable delay of either audio or visual slides, adversely affecting the attendees’ experience. Additionally, allow network connection, as using a dial-up connection for the presenter or panelists can result in dropped words, delays, or robotic sounds. I recommend a minimum download speed of 2MBps and upload speed of 1Mbps. You can test your connection for free using Speedtest.net or MegaPath, both of which give you an instant measurement of your upload and download speeds. As with your computing platform, if your speeds are too slow, consider upgrading to a faster broadband connection. It’s well worth the investment of a few extra dollars to ensure your audience stays engaged throughout the event.
- Audio devices: As a presenter, the type of audio device you use makes a huge difference. If you start with inferior audio equipment, delivering quality audio will prove to be an uphill battle. While many webinar platforms provide you with the option to use a telephone landline, I recommend that you invest and use a USB microphone that plugs into your computer’s USB port.
Amazon and other retailers offer an array of gaming headsets (e.g., Logitech) that start in the $40 price range. But my personal favorite microphone is a stand-alone, studio-quality AT20 manufactured by AudioTechnica, which can be purchased online for about $100. You’ll also need to purchase a base to support the microphone, or for more flexibility, a scissor boom.
3. Pay attention to environmental sound considerations
The first rule in audio recording is that if you can hear it, so can the microphone! Broadcasters do not transmit in a room where there is background noise, such as traffic, barking dogs, or people talking. To create a controlled, ambient environment that softens sounds and eliminates echoes:
- Use a furnished room with carpet and curtains.
- Put a sign on the door, “Do Not Disturb — Live Webinar in Session.”
- Don’t forget to turn off your phone.
By controlling the presenter’s environment, you can prevent unwanted sounds from interfering with the audience’s enjoyment.
4. Coach your presenters to sound like professional broadcasters
When you are coaching a presenter, the key is to find and convey your presenter’s passion. You can help them convey their excitement by encouraging the use of voice inflections in tone and delivery. Here are some tips you can offer to your presenter or interview subject:
- Tip #1: Work a microphone like a broadcaster: Don’t move your face away from the microphone while speaking, and no heavy breathing or throat clearing!
- Tip #2: Test the audio devices to make sure the sound quality is good.
- Tip #3: Be authentic, friendly, and speak naturally in a conversational tone. Smile, even though no one can actually see you.
- Tip #4: Audiences prefer listening to multiple voices, so team your presenter with a skilled moderator who can manage all the moving parts of a live webinar and keep the content flowing. A good moderator knows how to bring out the best in a presenter and can handle emergencies gracefully behind the scenes.
5. Do a sound check to ensure the quality of your content effort
The purpose of a sound check is to optimize the presenter’s voice and verify that the computing platform, internet network, and audio equipment are all working properly. The best way to ensure a successful live audio event is to perform several sound checks ahead of time, and be prepared with a Plan B in case a technical problem occurs during the actual event. It is equally important to gather the team for rehearsals to eliminate awkward gaps, coordinate cues, and review content, as well as to deliver a more confident, relaxed performance.
- Tip #1: Do the first sound check when your presenters first meet to begin message shaping. Listen for potential audio problems, such as dropped words or echoes, and take the necessary steps to prevent these from happening on your go-live day, etc.
- Tip #2: Make sure you know where each presenter will physically be on the day of the event, and what technology they will be using, because this could have an effect on sound quality. As described in Section #2, ask presenters to test their upload and download speeds to make sure they have an adequate broadband connection.
- Tip #3: Perform an additional sound check during each rehearsal, and listen to make sure the sound is being optimized for each presenter. Better to fix it during rehearsal than when you go live!
- Tip #4: Have the presenters and moderator meet one hour prior to the live event for a final sound check and to troubleshoot any last-minute problems. Technical issues have a way of inviting themselves when you least expect it.
Listen carefully to each speaker, and check for the following:
- Is she speaking loudly enough?
- Is he unknowingly breathing heavily into the microphone?
- Can you hear typing in the background?
- Can you hear side conversations in the background?
- Tip #5: Finally, encourage presenters to relax, have fun, and enjoy the experience.
Remember, the audience wants to hear someone authentic, warm and natural. It’s about connection, not perfection.
Lastly, here’s a quick test you can use to get a better idea of how important it is to optimize your audio. Using your PC/Mac speakers or with a headset, listen to the difference in audio quality between using a USB broadcast type of microphone and then a telephone landline handset and determine which sound will help you connect with your audience better.
Here are some additional things presenters should avoid:
- Do not use wireless devices or cell phones, as their connection can become unreliable, causing calls to be dropped during a live event.
- Do not use a speakerphone, as that will create a barrier between you and the audience, making your connection sound distant, rather than warm.
Like any chain, your audio production will only be as strong as its weakest link. For more audio technology recommendations, download our free white paper, The Five Things You Must Know about Webinar Audio.
Get more great advice on creating engaging webinars by attending Mike Agron’s workshop, Webinar Demand Creation for Content Marketers: From Start to Finish, at Content Marketing World, September 4–6 in Columbus, Ohio.