Proper microphone use

Can you hear me now? How often have you been at a conference or meeting and been frustrated by the poor use of a microphone? For all our advances in technology, a lot of bad sound is simply the result of talkers who don’t know how to use a mic.

Here are tips to make sure that everyone is heard during your next special event or conference.

1. Allow time for a sound check (a practice not just for professional musicians). A great public speaker still cannot overcome bad sound. Remember that one bad element of the event—harsh or inadequate lighting, uncomfortable temperature, background noise from fans or equipment—can eclipse all your hard work in preparation. A speaker simply asking, “Can you all hear me OK?” and then moving right on is not a sound check.

2. Keep away from the loudspeaker. Feedback is great in surveys and focus groups, but disasterous from a mic. Nothing says “we’re amateurs” like that all-too-familiar screeching sound.

3. Use the mic. Microphones are totally ineffective, unless people use them. Inexperienced users are sometimes intimidated by them or simply forget they are there.

4. Positioning is key. The person speaking should be no more than about two widths of the hand from the mic. Too close to the mic, and sound will be “boomy” (known as the “proximity effect”). On sensitive condenser mics, “p-popping” will be more prevalent. Too far from the mic, and the level of voice pickup will be too low—you’ll pick up more room sound, and increase the chances of feedback.

5. Standing at a lectern or podium is key as well. Room acoustics and sound reflections play a role in determining the sound quality that’s picked up by the microphone. At a lectern, standing too far from the microphone allows it to pick up too much room sound and sound reflected from the hard surfaces of the lectern. These reflections arrive at the mic later in time relative to the direct sound of the voice, and cause phase cancellations (seen as dips in frequency response, or “comb filter” effect) which can result in audible coloration of the sound. Standing closer to the mic allows it to pick up a higher percentage of direct sound, resulting in fewer phase cancellations and more natural sound.

6. Don’t use a lavalier mic as a hand-held. Clip it onto your clothing and don’t bring it right up to your mouth, as this creates overload and distortion.

7. Have enough microphones for panel discussions—at least one mic for every two people. Sharing one mic is distracting and time-consuming, with a lot of handling noise as it’s passed around.

8. An audience mic is great to have—either a roaming wireless or one that’s conspicuously located on a stand for audience questions. If yours is a public meeting where you don’t know who might wish to comment, be ready with a handheld mic for people using walkers or wheelchairs.

9. Avoid mics with On/Off switches, because Murphy will assure that they are always in the off position when your VIP keynote speaker steps up to the podium. And many people, no matter how technically inclined, can’t seem to remember how to flip a switch under the pressure of public speaking.

10. Don’t cup the mic. Although a popular technique among hip-hop artists, “cupping” your hand around a mic increases boominess and the potential for feedback.

In general, media training is great for executive directors, along with coaching with public speaking. Using a microphone properly is something we too often take for granted. Your sponsors, donors and event guests will all appreciate your extra attention to this critical practice.

1 Comment

  1. PAUL
    April 18, 2014

    Thanks for the “sound” advice. Very well expressed. nothing kills a good sermon quicker than holding the mic down around your belt!

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