The Microphone is Your Friend, or Can You Hear Me Now?

As experienced by Lorraine Behnan

Microphones are not magic wands, they do not replace vocal energy and dynamics, they merely amplify. However, if you want to make the most of your vocal power, sound professional, and be heard clearly and audibly, then learn to make the microphone your friend.

Many people do not feel comfortable using a microphone and therefore elect not to use one. This is never a wise decision. If there are fifty or more people in the audience, use a microphone. If the group is smaller but the room has poor acoustics, opt for the microphone. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard presenters cheerfully announce to the audience, “I am not going to use the microphone”. This is usually met with a collective groan. Eventually a frustrated individual will bellow, “We can’t hear you!” The usual speaker response is to start shouting in a strained voice that no one wants to listen to for more than five minutes. Pick up that microphone!

I believe that people are resistant to use microphones because they do not know how to manage them effectively. The microphone is your friend, not your foe. So allow me to introduce ways to manage one of these most valuable assets to your presentation.

  1. Choosing the appropriate microphone. First of all you need to choose the device that best suits your speaking style and needs. If are you most confident standing at a podium then you will be using the microphone attached to the lectern. If you are a wanderer who travels the stage you may choose to wear a lapel microphone – a.k.a a lavaliere. Some speakers choose the handheld microphone because they like the freedom of movement plus the extra vocal power, or they use the microphone as a comfort prop, something to hold onto.
  2. The Podium microphone. Determine the optimum distance for speaking into the microphone. A common tendency is to stand too far back from the podium and your voice cannot be picked up by the microphone. Fault on the side of standing closer. If you think that you may drift away from the podium, even if it is a foot or two, put on a lapel microphone. Often, presenters who initially elect to stand at the podium for feelings of security, start to feel confident as their presentation progresses and creep further on stage away from the podium. The result – I can see you, but I can’t hear you.
  3. The Lapel microphone. Even though it is called a lapel microphone often the optimum placement for the lavaliere is on a tie, or the center or a shirt or blouse. Not all microphones are omni-functional, meaning that whatever direction your head moves, your voice will still be picked up. It is best to turn the body with the head – and this takes some practice. Avoid hitting your microphone if you gesture toward your chest as this will produce a very loud and distracting sound. If you are going to speak for a long period of time, confirm with the technician that new batteries have been installed. Be familiar with the power controls. To spare the embarrassment of capturing your candid conversation as it booms through the sound system, do not turn your microphone on until to you approach the stage and turn it off immediately after you finish speaking.
  4. The hand held microphone. If you elect this option make sure you determine how far away you need to hold the device. If it is too far away your voice will not be sufficiently projected, if it too close to your mouth you may generate very annoying vocal plosives and pops. A word of caution. If you are also using a remote to advance slides, both hands are now occupied. This restricts gesture and you may find yourself performing an unexpected juggling act.
  5. Testing. Rather than tapping or blowing into the equipment speak your opening remarks at performance level. This way you and the technician can set a true level that will match the power of your voice. Take advantage of this opportunity to become accustomed to hearing your voice through the sound system. Determine the feedback sources. This usually occurs if you move in front of a speaker unit or because the volume is set too high.
  6. Practice before you present. Whenever possible, and it usually is, practice using your microphone before you speak. It only takes a few minutes and it is time well invested. Technicians are on site to help you with any questions or concerns that you may have so take advantage of their expertise.

    Lorraine Behnan is President of ExpressionLab Communications Inc. Lorraine is a highly recognized expert on change and communication who, for over fifteen years, has successfully motivated and trained companies and associations across North America. For more information visit

    ©2005 ExpressionLab Communications