April 18, 2008

How to use a microphone

Tomorrow I'll be spending the day providing mini-coaching sessions to the soon-to-be graduates of Women's Economic Ventures' Self-Employment Training program.

At graduation, each student gives her professional introduction (aka "elevator speech") onstage. We'll be working on their speeches in class tomorrow, as well as their microphone skills.

You might think that using a mic is as simple as holding it in front of your mouth and talking. And no, using a mic is not particularly complicated, but there are a few things to remember to make your speech as effective as it can be.

I'm not going into the details of a handheld vs. fixed vs. lavaliere mic except for this: if you're wearing a lavaliere mic, make sure to turn it off when you use the restroom!

Here are some of the basics:

1. It's probably a good idea to use a microphone if there are more than 30-40 people in a room, but it depends on the venue.

2. Practice turning the mic on and off if there's a switch. In case of feedback or some other mishap, you should be able to turn it off if you need to.

3. If at all possible, test the mic before you use it. Walk around the stage and try it out in different locations to see if there are feedback spots, usually near the speakers.

4. Hold the mic firmly, right in the middle, and don't slide your hands around or cover the top with your hand; the mic can pick up handling noises. Keep the mic in the same position throughout your talk so the volume is consistent.

5. Watch your posture; stand tall with your head up and face the audience. Make sure to breathe so your voice is supported.

6. When you're ready to speak, just speak. Don't say "Can you hear me?" or tap the mic to make sure it's on. If it's not on, you'll find out when you start speaking. If it is on, then you're already speaking and there's no need to fuss around.

7. The microphone should be close to the speaker's mouth, but not too close. Hold it about two inches away, at an angle, just below your chin. You'll hear whether it's at the right distance, and adjust accordingly. Holding it too close in front of your mouth obscures your face and causes the sounds of your breath or the letter "p" to be amplified.

8. You still need to project your voice even though it is being amplified by the microphone, but you don't have to shout.

9. Speak slowly; if it feels a little too slow for you, it's just right for the audience.

10. Enunciate your words; sound can get muddled in a microphone, especially if it's held too close.

11. Make gestures with your other hand. If you gesture with the hand holding the mic, the audience won't be able to hear you speak!

12. As with all public speaking, practice what you are going to say ahead of time, preferably with the microphone.

There's much more to be said about microphone technique, but hopefully this is a good start for you!

Download this as a free .pdf handout: "What To Do With That Pesky Microphone."

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