Mute Your Mic Whenever You Are Not Talking

In 2002, my sister Liz was a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. She showed off her special talent for remembering obscure facts and won $36,000. Go Liz!

Unfortunately, for all the Millionaire producers who were wearing audio headsets that day, I showed off my special talent, too. I can whistle—loud.

Our sister Rose and I were in the studio audience during the taping. We each got little mics to attach to our lapels so Meredith Vieira could chat with us about our brainiac sister who correctly answered a question about Vulcanization. What we didn’t get was training. We had no idea how our sound would carry, or even when our mics would be live.

It was only when Liz walked onto the set, and I blew my best taxi-beckoning whistle, did I realize my mic was hot. I could tell by the looks on the producers’ faces as they came rushing at me to stop me from splitting their ears again.

See what happens when users aren’t properly trained?

I remember that story whenever I participate in a webinar and I can hear phones ringing or participants coughing, chewing or yelling at their dog. Don’t they know their mics are open?

You’ve heard the secondary conversations when the speaker puts his hand over the mic, erroneously believing he’s blocking his noises. “(Thump, crackle, rustle, rustle) Yea, I’m doing this webinar. No, like 30 minutes. Yea, I’ll come down there when it’s over. Thanks. Hey, close the door. Thanks. (Thump, crackle, rustle, rustle, squeeek.) OK, sorry.” News flash: We heard all that.

Another favorite is the sound of a herd of cattle as the presenter types on the keyboard with an open microphone. This is very common when using a speakerphone or mics built into your computer.

Save yourself from embarrassment, and spare us the distracting and deafening noises: In a webinar or a conference call, MUTE YOUR MIC WHENEVER YOU ARE NOT TALKING! Recommend that all participants follow the same ground rule.

To control your microphone, locate the MUTE button on your phone or in your virtual classroom software interface, or on your headset cord. Practice turning it on and off, and then USE IT to MUTE YOUR MIC WHENEVER YOU ARE NOT TALKING. And remember to turn it back on before you need to speak again.

Do not just lock your microphone “on,” expecting to speak clearly and non-stop for an hour. That’s not likely! Allow yourself to stop periodically. Mute your mic, breathe, use some ChapStick, sip some water, clear your throat, unmute and start again.

Putting on and taking off your headset? Mute your mic. Coughing, sneezing, chewing or muttering? Mute your mic. Turning your attention to another call or conversation? Mute your mic. Typing or waiting for participants to type? Mute your mic.Here’s another tactic. Instead of thinking of audio in terms of a speakerphone, think walkie-talkie. Remember walkie-talkies? (a.k.a. Half duplex) The first talker held the mic open only when he spoke. Then, he released it to let the second person reply. Virtual classroom software such as Adobe Connect include a “Single Speaker Mode” limiting the number of speakers to one at a time. This, however, can be frustrating to use if all presenters are not disciplined to mute when finished. Others cannot talk until the original speaker remembers to click Mute!

Once you’re on a session and everyone is muted except the main speaker, notice the absence of buzzing, whirring, and static. Ahh. Listeners will notice improved clarity in the recording, too.

If ear-ease doesn’t motivate you keep mics muted, know that multiple open mics can also cause unnecessary burden on network connections for participants using voice over IP audio. Participants with low bandwidth or congested connections often experience symptoms of clipping or fading. Limit the number of participants with open mics to optimize the use of available bandwidth.

Think of what it sounds like when someone whistles in your ear! When users are trained to use hardware correctly, network connections, recording quality and participant’s ears benefit. Spread the word to fellow conference-callers—mute your mic whenever you are not talking.


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