how-to-use-a-microphoneHow do you use a microphone when giving a speech? Should you use a microphone? These are two questions I’m frequently asked during workshops or coaching sessions.

Too often, I see people stand up at conferences and shout, “You can all hear me, right?” And when no one has the nerve to say “no,” the speaker goes on to shout their speech.  Or, they take the microphone and hold it down by their belly button, where it can’t pick up any sound. Both instances show disrespect for your audience; if your audience can’t hear you, they can’t be moved to action.

I’ve used microphones both for speaking and singing and I know that using a microphone is a powerful way to fill the room with your message and get your voice heard. Using it correctly can make the difference between sounding like a professional and sounding like an amateur.

“…if your audience can’t hear you, you can’t move them to take action.”

Here are my tips for using a microphone effectively.

  1. Always be willing to use a microphone. In any audience, you will have varying hearing levels and English levels; don’t make it hard for people to listen to you. It’s healthier for your voice – and more pleasant for your audience’s ears – if you don’t have to yell.
    • If you are making comments during a conference, stand up and use a mic. It ensures that everyone can hear you and – as a result – increases your credibility and authority.
  2. Determine in advance if you will or will not need a microphone. You’ll want to use a mic for one of two reasons: the audience is larger than 20 people, or the event will be recorded.
  3. Decide which type of microphone to use. At a conference, you can usually choose between a handheld or a hands-free mic. Whenever possible, I choose a hands-free microphone: a lavalier or lapel mic, an earset mic, etc. That way, it doesn’t disrupt my natural hand gestures.
    • Avoid using the lectern mic, because it locks you to the lectern and prevents you from walking around and engaging the audience. If you must use the lectern mic, adjust the mic height in advance.
  4. Check the battery and volume in advance. There might not be a sound technician available to help you; always check the battery and volume level before you walk on stage. You can say something like, “Testing, testing” or “Check 1. Check 2.” instead of “Hey, is this thing on?”
  5. Where to put a lapel mic: If you’re wearing a suit, you can clip the lapel mic to your lapel (hence the name), on your button-down shirt, or on your tie about 8-12 inches from your face; clip the transmitter on the back of your belt loop. Ladies, if you’re wearing a dress and don’t have a belt loop, you might clip the receiver on the top back of your dress; it’s a little uncomfortable but you will get used to it. Wherever you put the mic, ensure it isn’t covered by hair or clothing as that affects the sound quality.
  6. Cough AWAY from the mic. It happens: sometimes we have to cough or sneeze on stage. Remember to turn away from the mic, otherwise the entire room will resonate with your booming sneeze.
  7. For a hand-held microphone, hold the mic about 6-8 inches from your face, just under your mouth. When your head moves, move your hand with it so that your mic follows your mouth. Use your free hand to make hand gestures.
  8. Speak with a strong, clear voice. Don’t try to yell and don’t assume that it’s OK to whisper. The microphone amplifies the voice itself; make sure it’s amplifying a strong, confident voice. For tips on how to find your strong voice, read my article in the Harvard Business Review.
  9. Relax if the mic doesn’t work. Sometimes there will be a problem with the sound. Relax and don’t let it overwhelm you. I was once in the middle of a presentation on stage using a lapel mic when the sound technician walked up, gave me a handheld microphone, and proceeded to stand behind me fiddling with the transmitter on my belt. I used humor to show the audience I was relaxed, saying “I will continue talking and pretend that there isn’t someone behind me right now playing with my belt.” The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed the audience will be.
  10. Assume the mic is always on! Sometimes the sound technician will tell you that they have turned off the mic. Regardless, I never, ever, go into the restroom with a mic on me. While the odds are low that something will happen, the potential for embarrassment is high.

Rather than be intimidated, look at the mic as an opportunity to amplify your message. Remind yourself why your speech subject is important to you, and use that energy and enthusiasm to fuel your passion when speaking. The mic is there to make your job easier.