May 18, 2020 · guide

A Dozen Tips for Better Teleconferences

Teleconferencing was a part of our work lives long before the new-normal forced total remote arrangements on us. But with the recent developments, it became so much prominent. And yet we are so bad at it.

Fortunately, a long time ago some people came up with some rules to regulate a similar medium: two-way radios. When I was trained in two-way radios, I was in love with the etiquette and ashamed to admit that applying those to teleconferences did not occur to me before.

These wisdom nuggets came from two-way radio etiquette and they are directly applicable to teleconferences. For ease of reference grouped under four categories: Content, Discipline, Speech and Tech.

Content

Two-way radios are not the best technology to carry human voice, most of the time you end up with garbled, broken, very hard to understand messages. Pretty similar to our teleconferencing technology after the internet infrastructure stretched to its limits. But two-way radio operators devised procedures to overcome them!

Message Aspects

A message in a two-way radio communication should be clear, concise and unambiguous. Well, this is good advice for any message, not just for two-way radios. Whenever you are speaking, make sure your message is on point, no longer than necessary and mistakable for something else.

Formulate

Teleconferences are not a good medium for thinking as you speak. It is better if you think before speaking. Make sure you have all the necessary information before and take notes like me so there is no oversight. Depending on the content, frameworks like 5Ws could help keep everything airtight.

Recipient

Since staring at a two-way radio for hours (or listening to a teleconference) can make a person zone out, radio operators found a way that no message got lost: when you call a station, you call their callsign first. Whenever you are saying something to somebody, tell her name first and then the message.

Method

The two-way radio has a lot of technological shortcomings and very clever people devised methods to address those. Since teleconference technology has similar shortcomings, we can use the same methods as well.

Discipline

When two stations transmit at the same time in a two-way radio channel, it is impossible to understand who’s saying what – exactly like teleconferencing, it is just an incomprehensible cloud of noise. That’s why in two-way radios it is considered either bad-form or illegal, depending on the jurisdiction. Don’t speak over someone else. And when someone starts speaking over you, make everyone a favour and just stop speaking.

Security

Two-way radios use airwaves which makes the messages easy to intercept. Since you don’t know if your encryption holds, you never communicate sensitive information over two-way radios. It should be the case for teleconferences since you can’t be sure if everyone is on encrypted, non-public wifi and they observe good cybersecurity hygiene.

End Message

During teleconferencing, it is not always clear someone done talking, especially if you don’t use videos – pretty much like two-way radios. So, when you are done talking, say “over”, “done”, “that’s it” or something similar and after saying that do not talk again until the turn comes to you or someone asks you something.

Speech

Since teleconferencing technologies rely mostly on voice, they lack most of the non-verbal components of human communications. Which makes it equally important to use your voice effectively.

Voice

Signal quality affect human voice greatly when talking over two-way radios. To overcome this issue, radio operators taught to use normal, clear and calm voice whenever talking. This improves the intelligibility of the message. Many teleconferences could benefit greatly from this.

Pace

To avoid garbled speech, it is advised to use at least normal, or even better slower pace than normal when communicating via the two-way radios. It is easy to try to be done as soon as possible when there are a lot of participants on a teleconference, but it does not help anyone if you have to repeat everything you have said two more times.

Pitch

Pretty much like two-way radios, our teleconferencing technology can not capture the whole range of human voice. So whispering or shouting to make yourself more comprehensible does not exactly work. Use your normal pitch, don’t make it awkward.

Tech

Two-way radio technology is far from perfect, just like teleconferencing technology. So operators need to find their way around the said technology and they found some solutions to overcome most basic problems.

Mute

Two-way radio operators have these amazing button called push to talk, which you need to push when you are sending. Unfortunately, that is not the case for teleconferencing technologies. I don’t know if you heard that one but not muting yourself during a teleconference is “the new reply-all”. Make everyone a solid one and mute yourself when you are not talking. But please do not forget to unmute when you start to talk.

Buffer

When you are using two-way radios, you don’t push the push to talk button and start talking immediately, it takes a second for the mic to be active. It is pretty much the same on your computer too. After unmuting yourself, wait for a second, then start talking. Same thing after – when you are done talking, wait for a second, then mute yourself. Therefore nothing will be cut from your part and nobody will (virtually) look at each other to understand if they are the only one that missed something.

Mic Usage

For two-way radio operators speaking directly to the mic is a big sin – that makes everyone’s speakers (or worse, headphones) “pop”, which is a very unpleasant feeling. If you are using your computer’s audio, then you are spared. But if you are using an external mic without a pop-filter, you are not. Then you need to speak “through” your microphone and not “to” it. You position your mic slightly to your side so its sensitive area (polar pattern) can pick up your voice but not the “pops”. This might take some practice, preferably try and arrange it before a teleconference.

Hope these tips help you to have better teleconferences. Please share your awesome tips for teleconferences below!

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