Beginners Guide to Webinar Audio

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So you’ve created your webinar and spent hours crafting your presentation to visually deliver your message to the world, but what about the audio? 

One of the key components in creating an impactful webinar is being able to verbally communicate to your audience, and if your audience cannot hear your message clearly, then your message may fall on ‘deaf ears’ (pardon the pun). 

In this article we will take a look at some of the basic audio considerations when it comes presenting your webinar. 

Why is audio so important? 

If you think about a typical webinar, spoken word is the key component in a presentation. Taking time to consider the quality of the audio that your audience can hear can have a massive impact on the overall presentation. 

Have you ever been on a video call where you hear lots of echo from different participants? Me too, so taking the time to look at your audio setup can help with audience retention, audience participation and have an overall more professional feel. 

So what are the common challenges with audio for webinars? 

That’s a great question and here we will list 5 of the most common challenges: 

● Proximity Effect 

● Lossy Audio 

● Reverberation 

● Distortion/Clipping 

● Microphone deficiencies 

Proximity Effect 

Proximity Effect is a phenomenon where a microphone picks up more bass frequencies the closer the sound source gets. So in simple terms if you talk into a microphone and start to move closer towards it the microphone will pick up more bass/low end frequencies. Moving closer to the microphone is great if you want to sound like Barry White or one of the many Disc Jockeys around the world, but may not be the ideal sound for your webinar. 

But conversely moving too far away from your microphone (or too much side to side) can start to make your voice sound thin, tinny and even more echoey so finding a ‘sweet spot’ between you and the microphone can help you achieve a more consistent tone. 

This phenomenon is even more of a challenge if you are using a built-in microphone on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone as you are more prone to move further away from the

microphone so spend a little time trying to find a comfortable distance between you and the microphone that gives you the results you want. 

As a general rule of thumb a distance of around 6-8 inches between your mouth and the microphone will work well, but there are no rules and you’ll likely be further away from any in-built microphone. 

Lossy Audio 

In simple terms lossy audio is the result of audio being ‘compressed’ due to file size and/or to preserve streaming bandwidth. Think of a picture file or video file stored on a computer, these files can be particularly large in size to store or stream. This is the same with audio and to make the audio easier to store or stream a file ‘compression’ is applied to make the audio files smaller. However the way this is achieved degrades the quality of the audio. 

Many webinar/video conferencing platforms use a lossy audio ‘codec’, especially with free/trial versions of software, which will impact the quality of the audio being streamed. In general terms this may not seem that much of an issue but note if the quality of the audio being streamed is not of a good quality, then the audio may suffer further as a result of this process. 

Reverberation 

Have you ever been in the shower and had the urge to sing, but notice your voice echoing off of the bathroom tiles or walls? This is due to reverberation where sound is bouncing off the surfaces in your bathroom. 

Some reverberation can sound pleasant and natural but too much makes the sound ‘muddy’ and less clear to the listener. This could affect the listening experience of your audience so it is something to be aware of. 

A good recommendation is to host your webinar in an environment that doesn’t have too many hard, flat surfaces but also has some soft furnishings to ‘absorb’ sound. Think of somewhere that is carpeted or that has curtains or fabric furniture as these will help the sound from bouncing around the room. 

Distortion/Clipping 

Distortion and Clipping can occur when the sound going into a microphone is too loud for the system to handle, or when the signal is pushed too far with gain (volume). This results in a harsh, fizzy, crackly sound that is unpleasant to listen to and will affect the overall audio quality. 

Fortunately it’s easy to prevent this distortion by either not being too close to the microphone, or by not turning up the microphone volume all the way up. A lot of webinar software now feature

independent microphone volume controls that will let you adjust the microphone signal being played in your webinar. 

As a guide try not to turn the microphone volume up past 75% or move a little bit further away from the microphone so your voice doesn’t overload your system. 

Microphone Deficiencies 

Whilst technology has moved forward dramatically over the years there are still flaws in certain microphone designs. 

It may be a popular choice to use the built-in microphone of your laptop to capture your voice but the microphone designs in many laptops are not as efficient as a dedicated external microphone. Using the built-in microphone may result in a poor listening experience due to it’s design but it’s also dependent on the placement of the built-in microphone in the laptop, as it may not be in a suitable position to deliver good quality audio. 

There are many different types of external microphones ranging from simple lapel microphones, USB microphones as well as traditional XLR microphones. Many of these options will provide a superior quality over an in-built laptop microphone, and they are becoming more and more cost effective so you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade your audio quality. 

Closing: 

To really up the overall quality of your webinar I would recommend looking at the considerations mentioned above as these are some simple suggestions to improve the impact of your webinar, and they don’t have to cost the earth. 

By considering how you approach the audio aspect of your webinar you will gain increased engagement from your audience and will produce a more professional overall experience, which will ultimately lead to better results. 

If you are using an in-built laptop microphone then I would recommend purchasing an external microphone, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money and have a complicated setup. There are plenty of affordable high quality and simple options on the market that will help you deliver your message in a high quality way, so you can focus on what you do best and engage with 

your audience. 

Darren Smith 

Audio Engineer at Progressive Sound Audio 

Audio Educator at Mastering In The Box

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