There’s no easier way to attract criticism than with a bad earnings call. Let’s face it, you don’t have a lot of control over the facts and figures being discussed, but that doesn’t mean the earnings call isn’t your responsibility. Remember, this is one of four serious opportunities for senior management to talk directly to buy-side analysts each year and it needs to go smoothly. This of course means keeping your management team on-message. But that message needs to be heard. Here are our tips for achieving the best earnings call sound quality possible.
1. Invest in great microphones
As with anything else in life and business, when it comes to microphones, you get what you pay for. That means, you don’t allow your CEO to talk on his iPhone headset and you certainly don’t allow your management team to share microphones. To get a top-notch mic, you dont need to spend a lot of money. But you do need to ensure that you have access to one. Some earnings call providers will bring these with them, but if they don’t, its advisable that you have a backup plan.
When comparing sound quality, really good microphones picking up your narration show a clear upside over bad or average ones. Don’t think this matters? Ok, let me ask you this: Would you let your CFO walk around at an analyst day in a T-Shirt? Didn’t think so. Their individual voices are the only touch-point analysts have with senior management on an audio earnings call. You want to maximize their professional appearance and image any way you can. Ensuring their voice is clear and loud when recording is also cruical for post-production editing. The lesson? Buy a good microphone – it’s an investment in senior managment’s collective reputation. All good IROs care about their CEO’s reputation.
When choosing a microphone, we suggest buying a uni-directional as opposed to a multi-directional mic. Uni-directional mics will record sound from one direction only. That’s a good thing. They’re great for recording narration because they only pick up the sound coming from the narrator, so you’ll eliminate ambient noises using these. Uni-directional mics won’t let your team give in to the temptation to share microphones either, which as we’ve already alluded to is a big no-no.
2. Maintain a consistent environment
In an ideal world, we all have a sound recording studio at our corporate office. But since your management team is about to start answering questions, you don’t want the first one to be about the swanky new booth they’re seated in. You’ve almost certainly got space set aside for the earnings call recording session. We suggest trying to keep this uniform, both throughout the call and across calls. That is, wherever you decide to set up shop, don’t change the environment during the call, especially when it comes to pre-recording earnings call introductions, it never fails that you’ll have to do multiple retakes. By maintaining a consistent environment and procedures, you’re better able to match the audio quality in the event that your team needs to edit the call introduction.
If at all possible, try to use the same room for recording across multiple earnings calls. Also, during a call, don’t let anyone enter or leave the room. While we certainly want there to be maximum earnings call visibility on the street, we don’t need it in the office. Any changes to the environment can not only effect the audio but also put off your speakers, interrupting their rhythm.
3. Remove ambient noise
It’s very rare, even in your recording area, to achieve complete silence. You’ll begin to notice this on a recording as soon as you start to listen. Removing ambient noises can sometimes be tricky. But there are a few simple steps you should go through as part of your setup checklist. Start by unplugging all office machines in the room; anything you can see. Secondly, turn off all fans and air conditioning systems. (In Texas, this is sometimes a tough ask, especially during Q2.) But sell it to your management team by reminding them it’s all about their image. Place your microphone away from any computers that are running your script. The fan in a laptop actually makes a surprising amount of noise and the vibrations from them on the same table as your microphone are something to be avoided.
The final piece in the ambient noise puzzle, people: Don’t let anyone into the room during your earnings call. Put signs on the door and even down the hallway if you can manage it. Ideally you don’t want any doors opening or closing on the same floor your team is recording. If that doesn’t work, consider asking your managment team to turn off their microphones when they’re not talking. It’s a simple trick but it will vastly improve earnings call quality when done correctly.
4. Dampen the sound
Recording studios are set up to absorb sound waves. It’s not easy in a conference room, but you can achieve something similar with a few carefully placed props. Prop framing is probably not something you want to use in a corporate setting but many smaller conference rooms will have curtains. These can be an excellent ally when trying to dampen sound during your call. Review anything that hangs on the walls. Are there pictures or artwork around? If so, remove them for the duration of the call to avoid waves bouncing around the room. Even the most senior of managers can be tempted to tap their feet while speaking or listening to a frustrating analyst, if possible try to choose a room with carpeting or rugs aplenty.
You can’t do a lot about the data in the release, but the earnings call can live or die on your pre-call preparedness. Ensuring sound quality on your earnings call isn’t going to get you an award, but avoiding mistakes in the IR program should be your bread and butter. Just when you think you’ve thought of everything, you get another checklist item to think about, right?