Working from home? Focus on hearing and speaking

Source: Barry Neethling

Now that it is clear that Covid-19 is not going to go away as fast as it appeared, we are faced with lockdown and social distancing measures for some time to come.

Many people care about their appearance when attending physical meetings but over a conference call, your voice and words are all that others can use to decide who and what you are.

So, what do you “look like” through a microphone?

Even with a good microphone (and, especially with a great microphone), if your mouth is not within half a meter away from the microphone, the listeners are likely to hear the echoic characteristics of your room added to your voice.
Be mindful that you don’t sound like you are sitting in a bathroom when attending a conference call.

We are going to be working more remotely than we used to, and as a result depend more on our voice and ears than ever before to communicate.

It is difficult to buy a poor quality microphone or headphone set. These devices have been around for more than 50 years, and have been refined over time.

When working remotely, you have a lot less to work with than if you are meeting physically.

This gets way more difficult if you are having to meet people for the first time.

The most valuable and important sense you have to work with is your ears and then, in turn, your voice to be heard.

All other senses are shut off. If you are lucky, you have video, and you are often faced with looking up the other person’s nose, with a bright background. This does not help with 1st impressions and tells you little more about the person that can help with the meeting.

The workspace
The internet is brimming with information on things you can do to help you work as best you can from home.

You can read on how to make your physical workspace better, giving your room a makeover and of course, how to soundproof your home office.

Remember, making your home office a better, quieter and comfortable space to work in is mostly simple common sense, once you have grasped the basics. Most of this can be done without spending any money.

Your hearing
To get information from the call you are having, your only source of information is your ears.

All the normal ways your brain uses to shut out echo, background noise, muffled speech or other people talking at the same time are eliminated when you are now sitting at the other end of a conference call at home.

The most sophisticated microphone and noise reduction system on the planet (your ears and brain) has just been replaced with a  much simpler version. Thus, when listening to something you are completely dependent on how well it is recorded.

Audio quality is mostly determined by the data rate (compression plays a role). Now, the shocking thing is that almost every conferencing system you use today such as Teams, Skype, Webex, Zoom, BlueJeans, Starleaf  has higher quality audio than a CD.

In comparison, cellphone and “old fashioned” telephone calls are ghastly quality – stay away from them at all costs.

There is nothing technically stopping you and your colleagues from producing and hearing your conference call in the same quality as the best artists you have heard on CDs.

Practical steps

Not being able to hear well creeps up on you for many reasons – like going to too many loud discos as a teenager, firing weapons, taking medication, to lifestyle through to genetics and plain bad luck.

The first step to a better experience working from home is to understand how good your ears are. You can find auditory tests online, but these are not substitutes for a test done by a professional.

All the normal cues you use to communicate in a meeting are removed apart from your ears- and they have been severely compromised anyway because now a microphone is doing the job instead of your ears.

Lipreading may help. We are all subconsciously lipreading to supplement what we are hearing.
When you have to work remotely, further contributing to stress levels and feelings of isolation – because a whole layer of communication has been removed.

If you have hearing loss issues, there is a lot you can do to improve the situation.

Dealing with the problem
Once you have figured out that you may have a problem, you can deal with it in a few ways.

NuHeara is by miles the leader in the new commercial “hearing assistant” space, and a serious challenger to the market that has been dominated by super expensive hearing aid companies.

Hearing loss is a problem and getting a lot worse with our youth growing up with earpieces inside their ears.

With the result from your hearing test, you can use the equalizer built into your PC or use an App for your iPhone or Android device – of particular interest is Neutralizer.

Based on your hearing test results you want to gently boost the volume of the sliders matching (or close enough) to the frequencies that your hearing is impaired. Do not make drastic changes.

Once you have made the changes, re-test yourself to see if there is an improvement, and if you are not happy, repeat the process.

Think of others
The “other guy” is the one trying to hear what you are saying, and remember that’s all the “other guy” has – your voice which you need to make sure is as good quality as possible, further considering the “other guy” may not have taken the same care to hear you properly.

  • Try not to use the microphone built into your tablet or notebook. Go to your advanced setup and experiment with the settings using the voice recorder app to see with what settings you sound the best
  • Some microphones have an “enhanced” tab with extra settings that can help your specific microphone perform better
  • Try to get close to your microphone – the further away you are, the more secondary reflections will reach the microphone to aid muffling your voice
  • Use a bigger, better external microphone. Even Microphones built into webcams can be of excellent quality – but they also need setting up
  • Don’t just plug microphones in and expect them to work properly. Test the microphone by listening to yourself – be critical as this is what your colleagues will hear
  • Avoid using video – unless you are sure everyone will have the bandwidth to cope

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