Posted on

Tips for Teleconferencing

With over a year of daily teleconferencing, and a strong likelihood we’ll continue to work remotely after the pandemic, I’ve noticed a few things that help or hinder understanding on conference calls and virtual meetings. These mainly pertain to audio.

Of course, we’re not trained broadcast journalists, and we didn’t ask for the pandemic to keep us working from home for so long. Nevertheless, there are some things we can keep in mind to help our colleagues understand us clearly on videoconference calls.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.

Breathing is okay

Some people pack air as if they’re about to dive for pearls, and then spew syllables as fast as they can until their lungs collapse. It’s okay to pause and take a breath occasionally. Don’t worry: The rest of us will know you haven’t left the call.

There are people who seem to be able to speak continuously without ever breathing at all. Based on my experiences with remote work, I suspect they are disproportionately represented in virtual meetings. I don’t understand how this is physiologically possible, and yet it seems to be the case that some people possess this rare and remarkable ability. If you are such a person, please see “pause” below.

Vocal fry

While vocal fry is popular in some circles, it doesn’t work well on a typical teleconferencing connection. It can be very difficult to understand the words you’re saying when you use vocal fry. It sounds something like crackling or static. Cultivate a suitable voice for virtual business meetings.

Don’t worry: You won’t wear out your vocal cords by using them as designed. They’re made to vibrate, and you won’t hurt them by pushing some air through the pipe. If you’re worried about losing credibility with your cool friends, just don’t tell them how you speak at work.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.


Consonants tend to get lost on typical teleconferencing audio connections. Pronounce consonants more crisply than you might do in normal face-to-face conversation.


Avoid speaking in a monotone. It will put people to sleep. Adjust the pacing of your speech to suggest changes of topic, to signal the end of one statement and the start of another, to create opportunities for others to speak, and to hold people’s attention.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, try saying, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine” or maybe “To be or not to be that is the question whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer” or even “I like big butts and I cannot lie” in a robotic monotone. The effect will become clear to you. It’s lifeless and dull.

It can be very helpful to use pacing intentionally. For instance, when you perceive that people are losing focus, you can often regain their attention by varying the pace of your speech. By slowing down to utter a particular phrase, you create a sense of emphasis on that phrase. There are many other useful tricks you can use by controlling pacing.

Space is okay

Avoid excessive use of filler sounds, like “uhhhh” or repeated words (“if-if-if” or “the-the-the”). It doesn’t help people on the call understand you, especially when the connection is audio only. If you haven’t chosen your next word yet, it’s okay to think about it silently.

For similar reasons, try to avoid saying things like “you know” and “like,” right? even if it’s, like, you know, a hard habit, right? a hard habit to, uhhh, to-to-to, you know? like, break, right?

It’s helpful to remember that people must strain to hear each word when they’re listening over a typical audio connection. The effort to decipher what they just heard isn’t repaid when all they end up with is “like” or “you know” or “uhhhh.” Don’t worry: We will know you haven’t suddenly died even if there’s an occasional moment of blessed silence.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.


Get close to the microphone and speak directly into it. Speak loudly enough to be heard clearly over the audio connection, but without overpowering anyone’s speakers or ear buds. Vary loudness from time to time to prevent people from falling into a trance and losing focus. (See “pacing” above.)

In any case, try to keep the volume level more-or-less steady. It’s hard to follow speech when the speaker punches key words or accented syllables very strongly, and mumbles everything else. It’s too much contrast between loud and soft. If you ever listen to National Public Radio, you know what I mean.


Pause from time to time to indicate changes in topic, and to enable people to interrupt to ask questions or make comments. Vary the length of pauses as a way to hold people’s attention. (See “pacing” above.)


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.

Finish words

Don’t let the sound drop off to nothing at the end of words, phrases, or sentences. Pronounce entire words, paying attention especially to ending consonants, which have a tendency to be lost in audio connections. Sometimes it’s helpful to utter individual words clearly, with space between, in a way that’s a little different from normal conversational speech. Of course, you won’t need to do that all the time.


Participants may or may not hear what you expect them to hear, or see the screen share or video you intend them to see. Verify – more than once during your talk – that people can hear well and that they see what you want them to see. When you change what you are showing, verify again.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.

Monitor the chat

In many conference calls, a person will dominate the air such that no one can find a polite way to interrupt to ask a question or make a comment. Check the chat panel in your videoconferencing tool frequently to see if someone has posted a question or comment there.

Chat is often the last resort for people who need to join the discussion, but can’t get a word in edgewise. When no one is paying attention to the chat, those people are left in limbo. They have already lost track of what the speaker is saying, and they’re not following the session anymore. All the information presented between the moment they got lost and the moment you noticed their message has been lost. So, watch the chat.

Attend 100% or don’t attend

It’s foolish and dangerous to “attend” virtual meetings while driving your car. Don’t. You aren’t proving that you’re a dedicated employee or a “go-getter.” You’re only putting other people’s lives at risk. No meeting is important enough to justify that. And no, you can’t multitask in that way. If you believe you can, then you’re twice as wrong as a person who knows they can’t, but does it anyway.

It’s usually not constructive to join virtual meetings when you are at an airport, train station, bus station, or when riding a train or bus, or when walking outside. I hope I don’t have to mention bicycles or unicycles. You will not be able to hear well or contribute effectively under those conditions. Unfortunately, others on the call will hear everything from your end, including the crunch of your bones when you’re struck by a truck you didn’t see coming because you were straining to hear someone mumbling on the call while you crossed a street.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.

Use video strategically

There are those who insist everyone keep their cameras on at all times. This is the primary cause of “Zoom burnout.” The reason is that when you’re on camera, you must (or feel you must) appear attentive and engaged every second.

In real life, people’s attention fades in and out naturally while they are in a meeting or performing work. I suspect this is the reason we are able to work 8 hours a day instead of collapsing after 4 hours. People are not machines.

By accepting that people can turn their cameras off, and use them when they want to be seen, you are (in a sense) granting permission for them to be human. That’s very nice of you.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Dogs bark. Kids squeal. Cats jump in your lap. So what? We’re all in the same boat. Don’t worry about it. Those things are not important. Just remember not to stand up if your camera is on and you aren’t wearing pants.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.


When you are not speaking, mute your microphone.