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Microphone Etiquette

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Microphone Etiquette

Microphones are unforgiving tools in the lives of professional speakers who may spend years perfecting the art of using them to optimise their voices.

Your voice may not sound better when using a microphone as they can only amplify the acoustic information it receives hence good vocal and microphone technique are essential tools to improve the quality of your sound.

At a luncheon recently the speaker (a wonderful friend of mine debuting as a virgin public speaker) paused and mumbled a profanity under her breath completely oblivious to the audience hearing every word. She was mortified when she realised her faux pas but graciously turned it into a humorous joke whilst vowing to turn off the microphone next time.

Generally folk are not accustomed to hearing their own voices at such an intimate level and are emotionally confronted with the stark difference in the sounds of their voices compared to how they normally hear themselves. This is a natural acoustic phenomena which we all experience due to the extra vibratory signals which are created by the tiny bones in our ears when we talk.

 Common microphone types include:

  •   Head-worn: often for big conventions and stage presentations, the microphone fits comfortably around your neck linked with a wireless transmitter.
  • Lapel mic: may create more background noise because it is farther away from your mouth and can create rustling sounds if a piece of clothing accidentally rubs against it, used jointly with a wireless transmitter as well.
  •  Handheld Microphone: usually used for Q&A requires very strict microphone discipline either installed on a microphone stand or held in your hand.

It’s very important to practice being comfortable using a microphone so that it feels like a natural extension of your presentation. There’s nothing worse than watching a professional presenter hold the microphone so close to their mouths they could virtually eat it like an ice-cream or so far away that the sound is muffled and distorted!

Controlling your distance and direction especially when moving about the stage using a hand-held microphone also requires practice to maintain your desired sound for example turning your head the tiniest bit, directing airflow around the microphone’s diaphragm not directly into the centre.

A microphone will also accentuate other types of idiosyncrasies for example; if you accentuate your ‘plosives’ (b, p, t, d, g, k, j, ch) or ‘fricatives’ (sh, s, f, v) or have a strong lisp or rapid mouth breathing patterns or a hoarse-breathy voice quality, these will reverberate from the microphone with the effect of your speech sounding loud and unintelligible.

My suggestions are to:

  1. Invest in or hire a good quality microphone to practice with an audience of friends.
  2. Record yourself and objectively ask – could I listen to my voice and value what I have to say?
  3. Watch your favourite speaker and model how they use their microphone.
  4. Test the microphone before you gather the audience’s attention including working with the AV team so that you can ensure the quality of your sound without extraneous noises.
  5. Simply don’t consume a big meal or soft drink before your presentation as all your digestive sounds will be heard by the audience.
  6. Microphones are extremely sensitive, there is no need to raise your voice. Adjusting volume is the job of sound technicians. If you are too loud, your voice may get tired easily. If you whisper into the microphone your speech may be less intelligible too.
  7. Never tap your microphone blow or whistle into it to make sure it works. Instead snap your fingers several times in front on the microphone without touching it.
  8. Do everything in your power not to drop or bump the microphone as the result may be an acoustic shock and feedback for members of your audience.

Remember that your voice will sound more competent and authentic with good technique with any microphone and this will ensue positive, confident emotions for yourself as you step out onto the stage.

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