Episode 49: June 26, 2009
by Lisa B. Marshall
You may remember that last week, I mentioned that I always request a wireless microphone. I got a flurry of e-mails regarding that brief comment, so I thought I’d dedicate an entire episode to microphone use. First, I’ll expand on why I think using a microphone is mandatory. Then I’ll cover some tips on how to use microphones properly.
Why Use Wireless Microphones?
Again, as I said last week, I always request a wireless microphone. However, no matter what kind of microphone, your goal is to speak in a normal conversational tone. You should never strain your voice just to be heard.
Some speakers’ normal tone is quieter than average, and so a microphone can artificially amplify (although not significantly) their voice. For those who are naturally “loud” speakers, the voice can be artificially adjusted downward to a more comfortable listening level. Again, any sort of strain will, at a minimum, limit your vocal variety, and worst case, will damage your voice.
Of course, any type of microphone can solve that problem, so why did I suggest a wireless microphone? Because most people have never been trained. They don’t know how to use a built-in microphone properly and it restricts movement. I’ve seen many speakers become frozen behind the lectern microphones; they don’t seem to want to move their head or body because they are afraid they won’t get picked up by the microphone. Or worse, they do move around and the volume of their voice fades in and out as they move.
So first, I’ll talk about proper technique for a built-in gooseneck lectern microphone-- primarily because these are standard in most rooms.
How to Use a Lectern Microphone Properly
First, you should point the microphone at your mouth because that is the part of your body that you want to amplify. Try to do this ahead of time, before it’s your turn to speak. If you’re lucky, no one will have readjusted it, but if it’s your turn and you find it is pointing at your chest or forehead, you’ll need to go ahead and adjust it. Do this quickly by bending the neck. Try not to touch the microphone itself. You might get some nasty feedback.
Next you’ll need to position yourself, specifically your mouth. You don’t want to “eat” the microphone or spit on it by being too close, but you don’t want to be too far away either. You should be about 8-10 inches away, or about two hand widths.
Technically you could go a little closer--about a fist away--but that will make your movement more restricted and difficult. With this type of microphone, the idea is to pivot or swivel around the microphone, always keeping your mouth exactly the same distance away from it. If you are about 8-10 inches away, you’ll have a little more freedom of movement. Obviously, if you turn your head completely away from the microphone you won’t be heard.
How to Move Your Body
If you want to move to the left, move your entire body left, but leave your head angled right toward the microphone. As you shift positions again, just remember to always keep your mouth angled toward the microphone and approximately the same distance away. For most people, that takes some practice in order to look smooth and natural and to keep the sound level consistent.
With a handheld or wireless microphone you have the ability to completely move away from the lectern. I almost always recommend that speakers move away from the lectern-- if not for the entire presentation, for at least for part of it.
Delivering your talk from the lectern limits your ability to make a direct connection with your audience.
Why You Should Move Away From the Lectern
I have been doing this long enough to know that some of you are saying, “But in our field, we ALWAYS present from behind the lectern.” To that I say, “Well, are you sure?” Think back to the very few times you saw truly excellent speakers. I’d bet a paycheck that the majority of these excellent speakers did not present from behind the lectern, at least not for the entire presentation.
Delivering your talk from the lectern limits your ability to make a direct connection with your audience. In fact, research supports that. The physically closer you can get to your audience, the more likely you are to persuade them. And your goal for all presentations should be to make a connection with your audience.
By using a handheld or a wireless microphone, your movement is not restricted to being behind the lectern; you can freely walk around the room. So in addition to saving my voice, that is really the biggest reason I usually request a wireless microphone. But again due to cost, sometimes the best they can do is provide a handheld microphone.
How to Use Handheld and Lapel Microphone
A handheld microphone also requires some special handling. With this type, you’ll want to keep the ball of the microphone below your mouth and pointed toward your nose so that the air travels over the mic and not directly into it. Another alternative is to touch the ball to your chin and keep it there.
Lapel or lavalier wireless microphones are a little bit trickier to use properly. In terms of placement, you’ll want them about eight inches, or two hand widths below your chin and as close to the center of your body as possible.
When you move around the room, the secret is to remember to move your entire body in the same direction; that way when you speak, your mouth and body will be in the same relative position and distance from your mouth. If you don’t do that, the volume of your voice will vary, which can be quite distracting. One note for preachers: be careful when you bow your head to pray; you will be much closer to the mic and you’ll need to remember to talk more softly to keep the volume consistent.
Two Final Technical Notes
Before I end this episode I want to share two technical notes. First, all microphones are fragile. That means you should never hit or blow into a microphone, because you can easily damage it.
And finally, most lavalier mics have two switches: one for power and the other for mute. Turn the power on first, then unmute. When you are done, mute the mic, then turn the power off.
So there you have it, a few tips and mostly techniques for using microphones properly. I think this answers most of the questions that were asked.
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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