Public Speaking — Using A Microphone

Many speakers fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need a microphone.  “I’m a REAL speaker.  I don’t need a microphone.  I’ll just shout my speech!”   Don’t make that mistake.  The mike is your friend and allows you greater flexibility in your vocal variety.  This is especially important for speakers who are using humor.  Vocal variety adds spice to the humor and the audience needs to hear your punchlines.  A microphone helps you meet both needs.

1.  What size audience requires a microphone?  There is no magic number.  Sometimes you don’t need a mike for 75 people.  Sometimes you do need it for only 20 people.  It depends on the venue; the size of the room, the furniture, the drapes, the carpet, the height of the ceiling, the noise from the adjoining banquet in the room or the kitchen.  If you’re ever in a situation where you aren’t sure whether you need the mike or not, use it.  You’ll at least have it set up and can lay it aside if you decide you don’t need it.  If you don’t have it set up and you discover you do need it, it’s too late.

2.  Although wireless microphones usually work great, a corded mike is a safer choice.  Cheap wireless mikes have a poor quality sound.  And we’ve all heard interference over a wireless mike from an outside source, the DJ in the next room or a taxi dispatcher. I usually request a corded mike.  I also prefer a handheld mike over a lavaliere.  You have more flexibility in how you use your voice with a handheld mike.  When you speak softly or turn your head, the handheld mike gives you better sound because you can position it exactly where you need it.

3.  With a lavaliere microphone, attach it where nothing will rub on it, either clothing or jewelry.  Experiment with the perfect place to hook it up for optimum sound.  Wear clothing which will accommodate a clip-on power pack.  Be careful wearing a lavaliere mike when holding something close to the body or hugging someone.  It can create a megaphone effect and give you feedback.  Also, don’t wear it to the men’s room or ladies room while it’s turned on! 

4.  With a handheld microphone, practice speaking and holding a mike at the same time.  Learn to naturally transfer it from one hand to the other.  It normally looks best to grip the mike with the whole hand and not with just the fingers.  And for most mikes, hold it near the top of the mike and not at the bottom where the antenna is often located.  If a mike cuts in and out, you may be holding it too close to the bottom and blocking the signal.

5.  With either type of mike, learn where the on/off switch is.  If there is a power switch or a standby switch, find out how they work.  Know how to work the switches without looking at them or in the dark.  If there is a battery, start your talk with a new battery and have a spare one handy.  Know how to replace it.

6.  Do a live test of the mike before the program.  Have an assistant walk the room to check the volume setting.  Look for feedback spots.  These are usually under and in front of speakers.  Avoid these areas during your talk.

7.  Before you are introduced, watch the speakers who are on the program before you.  How well is their microphone projecting?  Is there something you could learn from their handling of the mike?

8.  When it’s time for you to take the platform:  You’ve already tested the mike.  Don’t tap on it.  Don’t blow into it.  Don’t say, “Is this thing on?”  Or, “Can you hear me?”  Just start talking.  If you’ve done your preparation right, it’ll be working just fine.  If not, you’ll know soon enough.  It’s a good idea to have a room monitor who can watch for things which aren’t just right and who knows how to fix the situation.

9.  When using a microphone, energize your voice.  That means to speak normally but with energy.  Don’t speak into the mike, speak past it.  Let the microphone overhear your conversation.  Speaking into the mike often causes your Ps to “pop” in the mike.

10.  If you get feedback during your talk, try reversing whatever physical action you were doing just before the feedback started.  For example if you were moving forward and then you started to get feedback…move backward.  The feedback will usually stop.  In addition to feedback caused by  a nearby speaker, you can also get interference if there is another live microphone in the room.  The unused mike should be turned off.

11.  If you are using a microphone which is in a fixed position, perhaps on a mike stand or attached to a lectern, imagine that you’re attached with a string between your nose and the mike.  If you’re going to look to the right while speaking, rather than turn your head to the right, you need to first move your body to the left since you’re tethered with an imaginary string to your microphone.  This gimmick keeps the microphone in front of you at all times.

12.  If you are using a microphone stand which needs to be adjusted for height, have someone adjust it for the proper level before you are introduced.  Practice adjusting the stand ahead of time, just in case you need to do it in front of the audience.  If you’re not careful, some stands can separate into two parts!  Once you start speaking, it’s a nice touch to remove the mike from the stand so you can walk around.  Place the stand behind you so it isn’t between you and the audience.  As you wrap up your talk, move the stand back in front of you, and replace the mike before you say your final words.  You’ll look like a pro.

13.  When using a mike fixed on a gooseneck attachment, if you’re going to move the mike, do it while you are speaking.  The sound of your voice will help cover any squeaking noise resulting from the gooseneck.

14.  If you belong to a Toastmasters club or give talks at your workplace where you can practice with a microphone…do it.  You want the sound system to become a natural part of you and that comes only with practice.