You Should Care About How You Sound

If you are going to be a guest on a podcast or if you are going to host a webinar, or even if you are going to be on a conference call, you need to care about how you sound. Whether your audience is two other people on a conference call or thousands of podcast listeners, they will probably be listening in a quiet office, or using headphones, or listening in their car. Those are intimate listening environments where low-quality audio stands out.

The bottom line is that if you care about the message you are sending, you should care about how well you are sending it.

Getting “Good-Enough” Audio Quality

I am astonished by how many people seem to think the built-in microphone on their computer or cell phone is just fine. It isn’t. It sucks. It sounds like crap. With just a little effort you can do better.

When we do sound checks with podcast guests, we spend 10–15 minutes making sure the guest’s audio quality is good enough—by which we mean clear, static-free, and without major glitches or distracting echoes or background noise. It should sound at least as good as a land line in a quiet room. That’s the bare minimum quality we will endure, and it’s probably the bare minimum quality you should accept. It’s not a high bar, but there aren’t many people using traditional landlines these days, so it’s not always simple.

So let’s talk about what it takes to get “good enough” audio quality, and what it takes to sound pretty great if you want to.

1. Find a Quiet Room

First, plan to be in a quiet room without echoes. Conference rooms, for example, tend to have lots of echoes. But a carpeted office full of furniture usually works just fine. (You can actually find out if a room has echoes by closing your eyes and clapping while you listen carefully. If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear any echoes.)

If you are having trouble finding a quiet room without echoes, you could try a closet or your car. Both make great recording environments, but closets and parking garages don’t always have the best wireless reception, so check it out beforehand. Also, don’t wait until the last minute so you’re forced to call in from a corner of a restaurant or something.

Wherever you choose, make sure you can be comfortable. Listeners will be able to hear if your mouth moves away from the receiver or microphone or if you tap your fingers on the table, so you’ll need to sit reasonably still throughout the session, with your mouth close to the phone’s receiver or your microphone.

2. Arrange Not to Be Interrupted

Second, arrange not to be interrupted—by coworkers, construction workers next to your window, or whatever. On a podcast, we can edit out interruptions, but we can’t always restore the flow of a good conversation.

3. Sort out Your Audio Equipment

Third, sort out your audio equipment.

Option 1: A Landline

The simplest option—but not necessarily the best option—is to use a landline and a corded telephone. You won’t sound amazing, but you’ll sound good enough. Plus, landlines are pretty foolproof, and even though the audio quality isn’t fantastic, people are used to hearing phone calls on podcasts and the radio.

Just know that not all landlines are equal. Internet-based land lines—VoIP, or voice over IP, that is—are highly variable, but often sound like crap. And don’t use anything wireless, like a wireless receiver or headset. They invariably make you sound bad.

Option 2: iPhone with EarPods

Somewhat surprisingly to me, an iPhone with the bundled EarPods is usually an even better option than a landline as long as you have a strong signal. I typically ask people to turn off Wi-Fi and use the cellular connection, which seems to be more reliable and less prone to glitches during a call. Pretty much any iPhone works great, but, again, you need to use the bundled, wired EarPods.

Also, if you have a beard or you are wearing a hood or scarf, you’ll need to hold the cord away from your face so it doesn’t scrape up against you.

Android phones occasionally work great, but often they don’t. This isn’t me being an Apple fanboy. It’s just that there are a ton of different Android phones out there, and not every manufacturer gives as much attention to audio quality as Apple does.

If you want to try another phone or headset, go ahead and use it to call someone and ask how you sound. Or if you are going to be on a podcast or webinar, ask your host to do a test run with you.

Option 3: A USB Microphone

If you don’t have a landline or iPhone, or if you want to sound really good (not just good enough), you’ll need to get a decent USB microphone and some headphones.

If you don’t already have a decent USB mic, I recommend either the Blue Snowball or the Blue Yeti. We used the Blue Snowball for the first year of our podcast. It’s about $60 on Amazon, and it sounds fine. (Just don’t get the cheaper iCE Condenser version, which sells for about $40 on Amazon.) Or upgrade to the Blue Yeti for about $125. You can spend a lot more on a pro-level setup like what I use, of course, but you definitely don’t need to.

You’ll also need headphones. Pretty much any headphones will do, including whatever came with your phone or computer. The reason you need headphones is so that other voices can’t come out of your speakers and feed back into your microphone. It’s distracting and makes for a bad recording.

Summary

So let’s summarize:

  1. Plan to be in a quiet room that doesn’t have echoes.
  2. Make sure you won’t be interrupted.
  3. Decide whether you want to use a landline, iPhone, or a USB microphone and Skype.

And, one last time, don’t wait until the last minute. Take time to improve your setup now so you are ready to go the next time you get invited to be on a podcast or webinar or join a conference call.

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