Taking the mic

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Some people don’t get it


I was MC at an event recently and the time came to introduce the local civic leader. I started to explain to him how the microphone worked. “I won’t be needing that” he boomed.


I patiently explained that it would be better if he used a mic. He looked at me like I was a small insect and then intoned “I’ve been speaking for years I don’t need to use mics.”


He walked on stage and made a speech that absolutely no one heard.


The moral of the story?


A microphone is your friend


Well not your friend exactly but it helps.


You can say your voice is loud enough but with some crowds or rooms, shouting just won’t cut it. What’s more, some people will be listening on an induction loop. It doesn’t matter how loud you shout their hearing aids won’t pick it up. It is common courtesy to make sure that the people with hearing problems can hear you.


The microphone is not for you, it’s for the audience’s benefit. Click To Tweet


Wired for sound


A microphone is one of the most annoying things about being a speaker. They often break or run out of batteries. When they do work, they’re rubbish, prone to feedback or they make you sound like a monkey on helium. There are lots of reasons not to like microphones.


That said, there is one very good reason to like them. If you are holding a microphone you are holding an opportunity. When you use a mic it represents a chance to engage with people. Usually a lot of people. Microphones are part and parcel of delivering your big vision on the big platform.


Types of mics


Fixed mics


Fixed mics will be attached to a lectern or a desk. These are the most common in a council situation. You will also find them on podiums at big events. Just make sure they are at the right height before you start speaking. Watching a civic leader bend down so they are speaking into the mic is not that dignified.


Stick mics


Stick mic are the ones you hold in your hand. They are often wireless, which is great as you get freedom of movement. If they do have a cable, I always make a small loop of wire and hold that in my hand with the mic. That way if I walk too far and stretch the cable it doesn’t come out.


Lapel mics


Clip on lapel mics are the ones that clip on to your lapel. Once they’re in the right place they will pick up what you say nicely and you don’t have to worry.


They are easy to use so long as you are wearing the right clothes. It can be hard to attach the battery pack to an elegant dress.  You could consider putting the battery in your clutch bag or attaching it to your boots. If nothing else you can hold it but please don’t nervously play with it.


Just make sure that they are turned off when you leave the stage. I know of at least one mayor who went to the loo with the lapel mic still on.


Headset mics


Headsets mics are the ones that attach to your head, a bit like some headphones. They make you look like you should be taking a class in your local gym. They are for some reason popular. They help to keep your hands free but I can never seem to get them to sit right. If you have the choice, use a stick mic. If not, allow plenty of time to get the position right.


Tips for using a mic


Using a mic to create an effect with your voice is a real skill. Used well they can broadcast a whisper to a huge audience giving your speech an emotional punch. This takes practice however; making sure you are heard only requires a few common-sense skills.


Do a sound check


If you can, get there early and test the mic before the event starts.


Get someone to stand at the back of the hall to give you the thumbs up if you can be heard. Have a good walk around stage to see if there are any areas that cause feedback. Experiment with the positions you can hold the mic to see which one gives you the best sound. Finally, always be warm and friendly with the person at the controls. The sound people can make you look silly, make friends with them.


Be prepared for problems


Don’t get flustered if people ask you to speak up. This is usually cured by holding the mic closer to your mouth. If this doesn’t work check that it is on. Most mics will have a light to say they are live. If it really doesn’t work you’ll be glad you made friends with the sound engineer.


When the technology finally starts working again, apologise for the delay. It may not be your fault but it is the classy thing to do.


Listen to what others are doing


If you don’t get a chance to do a sound check, then your best bet is to pay attention to the people that use the mic before you. Do they sound good? If they do, copy them. Hold the microphone at the same distance from your mouth. Try to stay in a similar place on the stage to avoid feedback.


Adding an element of performance


Microphones are tools. Just like an axe you can use them proficiently, and cut down a tree. Or you can use them badly, and cut off your leg.


If you become skilled at using mics you can add a new layer to your speaking. You can use a whisper to draw the audience in. You can even use a microphone to vary the pitch of your voice. Bringing the microphone very close to your mouth creates another effect which adds to the vocal variety, and therefore interest, of your speech.


Next time you are watching a singer live, or even on TV, watch what they do with the mic. They don’t keep it in one fixed position. They move it quite a bit. Each movement creates a different effect and alters what the audience hears. Next time you are doing a sound check have a bit of a play and see what you can achieve.


Testing, 1, 2, 3


You don’t have to like mics, they are usually annoying, but you do have to accept they are a hazard of the job. Ultimately, they are good things. People don’t mic up in small halls with small audiences. If you are using a mic you have the chance to get your message to a lot of people.


But above everything else, remember the mic is there for the audience, not for you.

Duncan Bhaskaran BrownTaking the mic

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