Many of us have spent more time in Zoom meetings the past couple of years than we ever expected. By now, we know who is going to overtake the meetings with endless tangents, who can’t pick a steady volume level for their speaking, and who will say something worthy of an eye-roll within a few seconds.
Unfortunately, muting participants is not an option for non-hosts through Zoom unless the host allows you to do so, and it mutes the person for the entire meeting. Even a host can’t control the individual volume levels of people on the call, so it’s up to the host or meeting participants to let someone know if they should turn their microphone up or down.
Since you may not want to outright ignore everything that someone says, there are ways to make the call experience easier without raising or lowering your listening volume to account for one participant.
Zoom Live Transcripts and Closed Captioning
For consistent meetings with a regular host, you should bring up any difficulties you have with the meeting format. It doesn’t have to be during the meeting, and there are solutions that don’t call out any specific person.
The first option is Closed Captioning. If someone in the group is willing to write the captions, this is free of charge. Paid captioning services typically charge per minute, and they can cost anywhere from $1 a minute to over $10 a minute. That’s prohibitively expensive for most individuals, but a company may be able to afford the cost or negotiate a better deal. Real people tend to be more accurate with their transcribing while not lagging behind the current technology’s speed. They also deal better with unusual words, in part because you can give them a primer on any jargon, names, or phrases that will be used.
Zoom’s built-in Live Transcript automatically generates a transcription of the audio as it goes through the meeting. Disabling the service requires active effort, so you’ll have to check with the host to see why they turned it off and convince them to turn it back on. The company admits that it is not the best speech-to-text program, and factors like audio quality will limit the accuracy of the transcript.
Use a Speech-to-Text Program
It’s a trickier option that should only be considered if Live Transcript is unavailable or underperforming, but you can use a speech-to-text program to shove the brunt of the listening duty onto a digital device. The easiest setup requires a pair of headphones and two computers or smart devices. You might be able to use a single device with two microphones, but that requires extra components or setup to accomplish.
First, find a speech-to-text program. There are dozens of options out there for a variety of operating systems, and some are available free of charge. Premium versions tend to produce more accurate transcriptions, but this is not always the case. Smartphones can also serve as either the transcribing device or the Zoom meeting device. If you have a newer Android phone, you may have access to its Live Caption feature. There are also paid applications on both the Apple Store and Google Play.
Once installed and running on one device, you put the microphone from the transcribing device close to the audio output from the Zoom meeting device. The headphones direct most of the sound at the microphone without filling the air. When using a mobile device, make sure you can still read the screen while it’s receiving the audio. Adjust the setup so you’re comfortable throughout the meeting.
Watch out for movement of the transcribing microphone or headphones to keep the audio quality at optimal levels. Too much ambient audio will also interfere with the transcribing, so don’t crank up the volume, even if you will be muted for most of the meeting. With only one microphone, make sure not to unmute yourself on Zoom when the mic is close to the audio output, or you can create a feedback effect.
It’s not the most elegant solution, but it’s one that will work for any Zoom meeting that you have to attend.
Suggest a Different Chat Program
Zoom has some advantages over the competition, but it’s not the only viable option for large voice and video chats. The option to switch may not always be yours, but it can still be helpful to bring options to the attention of the host to see if they’re willing to consider using something different.
Discord is a popular chatting application that’s free and available for most devices. Servers are free to create, and you can add channels for voice and video chats. It can run in a browser or as an application, although users will need an account to join the server. It also lets you adjust the volume for individual users, regardless of host status.
The user limit for video chat is 25, but you can use a workaround to let more people view the meeting. Streaming your own screen and audio will let others in Discord form a gallery to watch, but they won’t be able to participate directly. Many servers have text channels with similar names to each voice channel to allow non-participants to make comments.
Although it has a subscription, the service comes with access to the rest of the Microsoft Office software suite. The number of users on a video or audio call is lower than Discord, which is already much lower than Zoom’s potential of 1,000 participants. The Events option lets you stream several users out to a wider audience, much like Discord streaming.
Google Meet is another free option, but several useful features are locked behind the subscriptions. The most painful limitation is the 1-hour limit on meetings, but enough of the core functionality is there to get a sense of the application before you commit. Microsoft Teams subscriptions are generally cheaper, and Google already gives its office software away for free. Still, the price isn’t too drastic, and it integrates with applications like Google Calendar.