VoIP Etiquette

We all enjoy being able to have meetings online with people all around the world without having to go through the hassle of traveling great distances and yet meetings via VoIP applications like Mumble, Skype, Teamspeak, Discourse etc. often get more frustrating than meetings in real person. In my experience, this is due to bad usage of the technology at our disposal and is often totally unnecessary if one comes prepared and knows how to deal with situations.

To eliminate this problem once and for all I made this list of things to keep in mind when preparing for, or engaging in, a VoIP meeting. This list is written for VoIP applications in general and I assume that the reader of this post have some knowledge and experience of using VoIP.

These is my proposed rule of thumb but I’d like to hear if you think this list can be improved or if there is something you disagree with.

TL;DR

  1. Use Push-To-Talk in big meetings and when you are meeting with new people; nobody wants to hear background noises from you
  2. Respect your fellow VoIP:ers and use a good microphone that only pick up your voice and nothing else
  3. ALWAYS use headphones! Hearing oneself when speaking is annoying
  4. If there is more than one person in the room, get an audio splitter so everyone has a headphone and use one wide microphone for everybody
    Alternatively, use multiple devices and mute yourself and everyone else in the room so you don’t have to hear them twice
  5. Nobody can see when you are away; use the away status (and message)
  6. Come prepared! Try out you equipment in beforehand

Big meeting vs. casual talk

This is about whether using Continuous Transmission, Voice Activation (transmits when sound level goes higher than a set threshold) or Push-to-Talk. First off, unless you are using a VoIP program that is really good at canceling out background noises, don’t ever continuously transmit because that will annoy everyone with all the little sounds like when someone puts down a cup, closes a door, adjusts a chair or just anything.

The real choice here is between Voice Activation and Push-to-talk and there is no clear line where one should use either. This is again about avoiding annoying people you are trying to have a discussion with. There is though a rule of thumb that I urge everyone to consider:

If you are with friends you can use Push-to-talk because your friends have a higher level of tolerance with you. If you are in a meeting with a great number of people, friends or not, use Push-to-talk. Otherwise, every little noise from everyone will result in a cacophony of annoyance.

Microphone

Respect your fellow online friends; get a good microphone. Rule of thumb; do not use the built in microphone in your device since it captures all the sounds from touchpad, keyboard and from when something hits the chassis or the other way around. Also, built-in microphones generally captures all the sound in the vicinity so using a built-in in a crowded area is a big no-no. Invest in a good quality headset and if the device only has one audio jack (combined for headphones and microphone) get an adapter.

Always use headphones!

I cannot stress this enough. If I had a nickel every time I have heard myself on a VoIP meeting, I’d be a millionaire.

Having speakers on when using VoIP makes the other participants hear their own voice when they’re speaking since the audio goes out from the speaker directly into the microphone. It gets annoying even when using Push-To-Talk since they still can hear themselves when the participants are talking simultaneously.

If you have no headphones and can’t get your hands on a pair then check fore features like “simplex” in your VoIP application. What it does is mute all other participants when you are talking and therefore removing the risk of feedback. If that is not an option then sometimes the best thing to do is not to talk at all and use the chat. Really, try to find a store and go buy a pair.

More than one person in the room

Meetings where two or more participants are sitting in the same physical room usually creates some problems. If only one is sitting with a VoIP application then they must use speakers, and that creates feedback which is not ok. If everyone is sitting at their own device with their VoIP application then they will hear each other in the physical room as well as in their headphones. There are really only two options here:

  1. Use an audio splitter so that everyone can have headphones. This will only work if the microphone has a wide capture where everyone will be heard. This is also one of the few instances where the built-in microphone should be used.
  2. Use several devices and mute each other. If everyone is at their own device with headphones and a microphone that only captures their voice then the only thing they have to do is to mute the other participants who are in the same physical room that they are.

Use away message

Nobody knows where you went. Unlike in a physical meeting, if you nip away to the restroom without leaving a message, everyone will still thing that you are present.

ProTip: Use a hot-key for away-status or if you have time, leave a away message.

Come prepared!

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success—Alexander Graham Bell

Before the meeting starts, make sure that you try out your equipment and check that everything works. Check your microphone in your VoIP application of choice so that your level is ideal. Not having to deal with configuration the first hour is a great way to start.


Hope you liked my list and remember to share it to your VoIP peers!

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