The three main components of a quality conference call are clarity, usability, and cost. Simply put, the audio must be clear, with no delay, jitter, or fuzziness; the interface must be easy to use for both participants and the group leader; the service must be affordable and deliver a good ROI within a reasonable amount of time. Achieving the best quality in a conference call is not just under the purview of the provider of the hosted service; quality can also be enhanced by the end users.
Ensuring the quality of the call starts with choosing a provider. If using a hosted conferencing service, arrange for a trial before signing any long-term contracts. Fortunately, many services offer the possibility of a no-contract arrangement where you pay only per call, per minute. Although this may be more expensive in the long run, it is a good way to test the service before making a commitment.
When choosing a provider, consider their reputation and whether they back up their promises of quality with a guarantee. If you choose to bypass the hosted service provider and install your own on-premise conference bridge, quality assurance is even more important, since you will be putting out a capital expenditure up-front. In this case, a trial run is a necessity, and make sure the vendor can provide you with a live demo. Also, if you are hosting your own conference calls and are using VoIP, make sure that there is adequate bandwidth for hosting the calls without any degradation of quality or incidence of packet loss.
Diminished call quality may come from individual participants who unknowingly allow background noise to filter into the call, use a poor quality speakerphone or one that is positioned incorrectly, or are in a noisy room. The first step is to remind participants of proper protocols before the conference starts, which include finding a quiet room, shutting off other phone lines including cell phones, and avoiding eating while participating (chewing noises will be magnified). If possible, participants should call in on a land line. Another very simple step that participants can take is to mute their line when they are not speaking.
If there are multiple participants in the same room, it is best to use a single line and allow all parties to join in via a speakerphone. Having multiple lines and participants in the same room may cause feedback. And lastly, participants should be instructed that, if they need to step away for a moment, putting their line “on hold” may trigger their own system’s hold music, which would disrupt the entire conference.