A Speaker’s Best Friend And Worst Enemy: The Microphone

A Speaker’s Best Friend And Worst Enemy: The Microphone

A microphone is a powerful tool, but you have to know how to use it
A microphone is a powerful tool, but you have to know how to use it
Image Credit: stevebustin

How good of yeller are you? I mean, if you were giving a speech in a really big room that was crowded with people, could you yell your speech loud enough to make sure that even the people in the back could hear what you were saying? If you are like me, you might be able to do this for a while, but you sure could not do it for an entire speech. That’s why we need help when we find ourselves in situations like this. This is when the microphone comes in to play. However, it turns out that using a microphone is not as simple as it might initially appear. There is a right way to go about doing this and a wrong way.

The Power Of A Microphone

The reason that a microphone can be such an important tool for a speaker is because when we use one, it adds emotion, dimension, and excitement to our speech and lets us communicate the importance of public speaking. What we need to be aware of is that a microphone is a tool and if this tool is not used correctly then we can end up causing problems that will take away from our speech. These types of microphone related problems can distract us when we are speaking and irritate our audiences. The good news is that it is possible to get a microphone to work for you and not against you.

One important fact that speakers need to be aware of is that every speaking environment that we encounter is made up of our voice, the microphone that we use, and the sound system. Each of these is different from all others. This means that what may have worked for us during a previous speech may no longer work for us during our current speech. This is why we need to make sure to take the time to test any sound system that we’ll be using before we start our speech. In order to accomplish this, you are going to have to make sure that you show up well in advance of your speech starting. If there is no one to help you with the sound system, get a friend to go sit in a remote corner of the room and let you know if you can be heard. Make sure that you eliminate any of that annoying feedback that can irritate audiences. If you get a chance, you’ll want to select the right type of microphone for room that you’ll be talking in.

Wireless Microphones

Welcome to the modern age. These days, we often have the opportunity to use wireless lavalier (aka “clip on”) microphones. A lot of us like these because we are not anchored by a wire and this allows us to roam all over the stage and since we are not holding anything, we can use both of our hands as a part of our speech. As useful as wireless microphones can be, there are some downsides to using them. You may run into problems if you find yourself speaking in a large room or if you tend to speak using a soft voice.

The problem that you can run into with a wireless microphone has to do with where it is placed. Since it gets clipped to your shirt or coat, it can’t be placed close to your mouth. Since by your mouth is where your sound is the strongest, and since a wireless microphone can’t be placed there it may not be the best microphone selection for a speaker who talks softly. The larger the room, the bigger the problem may be. Since the microphone is not going to do a good job of picking up the speaker’s voice, it won’t get amplified very well and a large audience may have trouble hearing the speaker.

So where’s the right place to put a wireless microphone? This is a key question because where you put it can have a big impact on your sound quality. Generally speaking, the best place for a wireless microphone is to place it near the center of your chest. This is between 3 to 8 inches below your chin. You’ll also have to be careful about your clothes. You don’t want anything that you are wearing to brush against your wireless microphone. This can include long necklaces.

Hand-Held Microphones

So what’s the downside to using a hand-held microphone? Well, for one, it’s going to occupy one of your hands during your entire speech. Outside of that, a hand-held microphone is often a good choice for most speakers. These microphones often end up providing the best sound quality. These are the right type of microphones to use for speakers who speak softly because they can be held close to the mouth. You will also run less of a risk of generating feedback if you hold the microphone close to your face.

If you happen to have a loud voice or if the sound system that you are using has been turned up all the way, you can compensate for this simply by holding the hand-held microphone further away from your mouth. The correct distance to hold a hand-held microphone can differ for different circumstances, but generally speaking you’ll want to hold it between one to four inches from your mouth. If you are hearing either wind-like or popping noises during your speech simply adjust how you are holding your microphone to hold it lower, beneath your lips, so that your breath will travel over the microphone.

Lectern Microphones

Lectern microphones tend to come in two different flavors. The first is a skinny, generally black, model that has a foam end piece. The other is shorter and has a bulky design that makes it look like a hand-held microphone that has been mounted on the lectern. There are some challenges to using lectern microphones. You may discover that you are hearing a popping sound as you speak if you are allowing yourself to be too close to the skinny type of lectern microphone. You are really going to want to be between six to twelve inches away from this type of microphone.

The shorter and more bulky type of lectern microphone is generally attached to a type of movable arm. When using this type of lectern microphone, you will generally want to speak closer to it than with the skinny version. You’ll want to check this microphone out before starting your speech. You’ll need to make sure that it is not going to block your ability to read your notes or obscure your face from your audience. Keep in mind that when you are using a lectern microphone, you need to remain in place and not wander off. You’ll also want to be sure to not turn your head too far to either side.

What All Of This Means For You

None of us have a voice that is strong enough to be able to be heard by a large audience in a large room during an entire speech. In order to solve this problem, we often turn to using a microphone. Microphones are wonderful things and can allow us to do a good job of broadcasting our speech and sharing the benefits of public speaking. However, they are tricky tools and we need to understand how to use them correctly.

One of the most popular types of microphones are the wireless ones. These microphones get clipped to our shirt or coat and then we can wander all over the stage and both of our hands are free. However, wireless microphones cannot be placed close to our mouths and so they may not be the right solution for soft speakers or when we are addressing a large room. Wireless microphones are best placed in the middle of our chest. Hand-held microphones are often the best solution for all speakers. They are a great solution for soft spoken speakers because they can hold the very close to their mouth and be heard. Loud speakers or speakers who are dealing with a loud sound system can simply hold the microphone further away from their mouth. Lectern microphones come in to varieties, a long skinny model and a short stubby model. The long skinny model has to be held far enough away from the mouth to avoid popping noises and the short model has to be held closer to the mouth. Speakers who are using lectern microphones have to make sure that they don’t move too far away from the lectern.

Microphones are wonderful things and they allow us to give speeches that otherwise we simply could not pull off. However, as speakers we need to understand that microphones are tools and therefore we have a responsibility to learn how best to use these tools correctly. There are three main types of microphones, wireless, hand-held, and lectern and each operates differently. Take the time to fully understand the type of microphone that you’ll be using in your next speech so that you can get the maximum value out of it.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: If you had your choice, would you use a wireless microphone or a hand-held microphone?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

It takes a lot of effort to create a speech. You have to write it, practice it, and eventually deliver it. As long as we are going to all of this effort and because of the importance of public speaking, it sure seems as though we should also be trying to find ways to grab our audience’s attention and hold on to it throughout our speech. As easy as this is to say, it turns out that it’s actually quite difficult to do. One thing that we need to understand is that we know how we view the world. However, what a lot of us don’t know is how the world views us. If we can figure this out, then we can become more confident and even more authentic to our audiences and we’ll be able to grab on to their attention.

3 thoughts on “A Speaker’s Best Friend And Worst Enemy: The Microphone”

  1. As an ‘older’ individual, I concur with Your issues with microphones… however, the speakers [frequency ranges/response] and hall acoustics are often poorly coordinated.

    I have lost the higher end of my hearing… jet engines, etc… hence audio distortion from every source can often make listening in even an attentive audience like being in an airline terminal where announcements are virtually junk.

    Another factor that is important, for my hearing, is that women and men with different frequency ranges, speaking one-after-the-other… or worse… talking-over-each-other… can wipe-out ‘audio-legibility’ for me… and many others… Much like when background music is too loud during a movie or TV show…. and you can’t hear what the characters are saying clearly enough to follow the script [in real life there is NO background music]. This is maddening!
    Regards, WKT

  2. The statement above, “None of us have a voice that is strong enough to be able to be heard by a large audience in a large room during an entire speech.” is a generalization that, like most generalizations, is…well…a generalization. And generalizations often don’t stand the whole truth test. There are plenty of folks who can speak loudly enough for an entire room to hear the speaker for an entire speech. As a former Marine, I knew many drill instructors who could easily do so and I did so myself as a commanding officer both inside large auditoriums and classrooms and out “in the field” without the aid of electronic enhancements or bull horns. Same with preachers who often give their sermons to large congregations, fully understood even from the rear most pews, without electronic aids.

    And the length of the speech makes a difference obviously. The best speeches often are the shorter ones, and short speeches may be given without electronic aids in large indoor spaces and even outdoors by many people, especially those with louder, more powerful and deeper voices who slow the pace of their speaking and enunciate more to help with understanding from the outer reaches of the audience.

    • BRF: Ok, I’ll go along with what you are saying. There is a group of speakers, I’d say that it’s a small group, that do have the vocal ability to broadcast their message loud enough that they can be heard even when they are addressing a large room. However, the point that you are missing here is that in order to generate the volume that is required to do this, they have to physically make an effort to expel each and every word. What this means is that they come across as though they are yelling at their audience. In certain circumstances, this may be appropriate (drill instructors barking commands, preachers asking people to stop sinning, etc.) However, there are topics that this is not appropriate for (401k plan selections, the story about how my dog died, a remembrance of somebody who was a mentor to many, etc.) In these cases, the use of a microphone allows the speaker to speak quietly and in an almost soft voice and still be heard.

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