Presenters: Mind your Microphone Manners

We’ve all seen a presentation go horribly wrong due to mic-related issues: its not loud enough, its too loud, theres too much distortion, too much static; the list of things that can go wrong is an exhaustive one.

As a result of this, most first-time speakers have a fear that the seasoned veterans call – micphobia. It makes them wary of, and even shun, this useful audio enhancing tool.

The humble mic has its uses, but there will also be events and places where you’ll be fine without it.

So when should you be using it and when is it okay to put it down?

WHEN to Have a microphone on hand

The microphone is a helpful device. It amplifies your voice, carries it across the room, and makes it easier for people to hear you. It is particularly handy in a cavernous room or an auditorium packed with listeners.

1.    Venue with background noise

Imagine speaking at a hotel conference with a noisy wedding or birthday party in the adjacent room. It doesn’t matter whether you’re addressing an group of twenty or fifty, your words will eventually get drowned out. You risk losing your momentum and your audience’s interest. When you present in a room with poor acoustics, keep the microphone around. Use it when required.

2.    Event size and location

While there is no hard and fast rule, its safe to follow the rule of thumb and use a mic when you have more than 50 listeners. Use a microphone at a TED or trade show, large conventions, industry conferences, outdoor presentations, or recorded events. You want everyone in the room and elsewhere to hear you loud and clear.

3.    Audience factor

Some members in an older audience may have hearing problems. You may have to present to an audience in another country or to a group who aren’t fluent in your language. Use a microphone to enable them to follow your speech and understand your message.

4.    Connect with the audience

Have you noticed powerful and professional speakers? They move around the stage a lot. They sometimes lean in to the audience, ask a few questions, make a comment, and generally get them to participate. They wield the mike like a wand, forcing people to pay attention and open up to them. Follow their lead and avoid stiff presentations. A clip-on microphone and earpiece are great for helping you to connect with your audience.

5.    When speeches are a way of life

If you’re the poster boy or gal of your company for presentations, your vocal chords are busy at work. A sore throat or laryngitis is bad enough, but a voice injury can take longer to heal. To reduce strain on your voice, balance mic-free sessions with microphone-facilitated speeches.

“People like my voice and say I can sing, but I don’t like microphones in front of my face: it distracts me.”
– Bernie Worrell

Ditch the microphone before you enter

There are smaller events or indoor settings where you don’t really need a mic. You’ll rarely come across people using microphones at the average corporate meeting or classroom.

1.    Location and acoustics

You can forgo the mic in a small room with good acoustics. You can also avoid using one in a medium-sized room by reducing the distance between you and the audience. Ask them to move closer or you move closer to them. If the venue is noisy, close the window and doors, and draw the drapes to reduce background or outside noise.

2.    Audience size

You don’t need a voice enhancer when you’re presenting your ideas or products to team members, bosses or clients. This applies to in-house training and instructional sessions. For a smaller audience, speak in a stronger voice and articulate well. This ensures that people in the last row can follow your speech.

3.    Unexpected technical issues

Sometimes, things don’t go well as planned. Your microphone may stop working or your presentation audio may malfunction. Instead of panicking, continue your speech. Use voice projection techniques to reach the audience at the back of the room.

“Nobody gets between me and my microphone.”
– Sinead O’Connor

Master the art of speaking with a mic

To ensure a smooth presentation, follow these best practices. Ensure there are enough microphones if you’re having a panel discussion, guest speakers, or a Q&A session with your listeners. Carry a spare mic if you’re unsure about the equipment at the venue. A sound check before the actual presentation mitigates possible sound issues.

1.    Handheld microphone

When you use a handheld mic, the top should face your mouth. Keep it near your chin (3-4 inches below mouth). This reduces the chances of a drop in voice, when you turn your head around while speaking. When you’re too close to the mic, it will capture every little sound you make, every breath, every cough or hiss. Don’t crowd the mic as these disruptions can irritate your audience.

2.    Lapel and neck mic

These are easier to use but they also capture background noise. Obviously, try to avoid private conversations or off-stage remarks when the mic is on. Refrain from speaking softly just because you have a clip-on mic. The device is only as good as your voice. Speak slowly, clearly, and with confidence. Maintain you normal speaking voice and avoid raising your pitch unless you’re emphasizing a point.

3.    Table microphones

When you’re part of a panel discussing a presentation, it is professional etiquette to switch off your mic to allow another member turn to speak. Speak over or across the microphone rather than into it to avoid sound distortions.

4.    Other tips

Study the on/off modes on the microphone when you’re presenting at an unfamiliar venue.

Avoid wearing heavy neck or ear jewelry while presenting. This can add to background noise in a lapel or handheld mic.

If you’re given the option, choose wireless mic’s. Unlike wired devices that hamper movement, these mic’s allow you to move about freely whilst making your presentation.

Stand upright and look at the audience whilst speaking. This ensures clarity in your voice and it carries over to your listeners.

Are there other reasons or tips you’d like to include in this list? Do you use a microphone for your presentation?