The mute button

How I look and sound on video calls has become a more important part of my professional digital identity recently amidst the current pandemic. A large portion of my job involves meeting with faculty and staff at the college, helping out with or facilitating different activities in classes, and participating in other various meetings. Obviously all of that is has been happening online now since March. 

To make sure people can hear me clearly on video calls I have been using different headsets and microphones instead of the built in microphone on my laptop. One of the things I love about the headset I use most often is that it has a built in mute switch.

I like the mute switch on my headset because it is a physical switch that I can use to mute my microphone quickly and easily. I can find and discretely flip this switch without looking at it, and I can tell just by touching it whether I am muted or not, it is really convenient.

On occasion I use an actual microphone for video calls and the device that the microphone plugs in to has a gain knob which is convenient for the same reasons as that mute switch:

As much as I like being able to turn on and off my mic this way, in certain contexts I’ve gone back to using the software mute button in Google Meet / Zoom / whichevervideoplatform. I’ve done this because I believe that the built in visible mute indicator built in to all these video platforms has started to become a form of non-verbal communication.

I’ve been a part of more than one video call where Person A is doing most of the talking in a meeting while Person B and Person C are muted. Suddenly Person B clicks that unmute button, the disappears, and Person A stops talking and says something to the effect of “Person B, do you have something to add?”

This might sound unremarkable, but it is particularly interesting to me because of how many social cues don’t work, or are hard/impossible to notice over video calls. In a face to face conversation, body language, taking a breath, facial expressions, or any number of other non-verbal cues might indicate that someone would like to speak. We make due without these on video calls, but this is one tool that we have on video calls that we don’t have in person.

I think I might need to give up my physical mute switch and get used to hauling my cursor across the screen and over to the toolbar and clicking that mute button.

(2) Comments

  1. Jennifer Nissen

    Taylor, thanks for the great tips! Your post reminded me of a recent podcast episode from Coaching for Leaders. It’s episode 472: How to Run an Online Meeting, with Bonni Stachowiak (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/472-how-to-run-an-online-meeting-with-bonni-stachowiak/id458827716?i=1000476382160). Bonni Stachowiak is the host of the *amazing* Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. Jennifer

    1. Taylor

      I really like the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. I’ll have to check that out! Thanks.

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