Would you believe that we developed most of our bad microphone habits before the age of 10? If you’ve ever sung your favorite jam into a fork or hairbrush microphone, you’re just as guilty as the rest of us. That experience, of course, doesn’t mean we know how to use the real thing . . . most of us don’t. And the reason that some speakers tend to be clumsy with microphones is quite simple; they have never been properly taught how to use one. In other words, their understanding is still at hairbrush level. This is a crash course in how to properly handle microphones. Welcome to Microphonography 101! (Yes, I made that up.)
Let’s get started! There are generally two types of microphones, handheld, and hands-free. Like anything else, there are pros and cons to each. We’ll look at them one at a time, starting with the handheld.
Aptly named, the handheld microphone is any microphone you hold in your hand to amplify speech. You should be familiar with two features on the handheld microphone, the power button and the windshield.
The power button is usually located on the side or bottom of the microphone. You will most likely have to push or slide it to turn it on. If you see a green light, you’re good to go.
Feature number two, the windshield, is the spongy, sometimes colorful cover that sits atop a microphone. The purpose of the windshield is to block unwanted noise like wind from interfering with sound quality. If you don’t have a windshield, know that your microphone will be extra sensitive so take it easy pronouncing those “Ps.”
Handheld lovers say the best thing about the handheld mic is how much more comfortable they feel on stage with something in their hands. The handheld also gives them the option of passing the mic to someone else allowing them to join the conversation.
Handheld haters say the handheld is extremely limiting because users only have one free hand. This means their ability to gesture with their arms is extremely limited.
I say use whichever mic works for you. If it happens to be a handheld, do your audience a favor and don’t cover your mouth. Instead, hold the mic two inches below your chin. Your mic picks up sound from the vocal cords in your throat. (Voila!)
The second type of mic (aka, lavaliere) is handsfree, which includes a clip-on microphone and a battery pack. Two features of that mic with which you should be familiar are power and positioning.
The power button is usually on top or on the side of the power pack. When you flip the on/off switch, you should see a light indicating that you have power. Most hands-free mics use batteries (usually AAs) that tend to drain relatively quickly. If you speak frequently, always carry fresh batteries. I travel with a supply of both AAs and AAAs . . . it’s amazing how much you can get for them when people are in a pinch (kidding).
The second need-to-know of the handsfree mic is positioning. The clip-on microphone can be easily attached to the top of the speaker’s jacket, shirt, etc. It’s best placed in the center as opposed to the left or right side; that way, the mic will continue to pick up your voice when you turn your head to either side. Just don’t go Tarzan on me and start beating your chest because you will inevitably hit the microphone creating a repulsive sound.
The battery pack must also be clipped onto the speaker’s clothing. The most popular place to clip your pack is on your belt line. If you’re wearing a sports coat, it will easily fit in the inside pocket. Ladies, if you’re wearing a dress with no belt or pockets, attaching the battery pack is a challenge. Try to avoid that, if possible.
Handsfree lovers say it is liberating not to think about a microphone. And the fact that it is inconspicuous makes it even better. Handsfree haters say that attaching the handsfree mic is annoying and uncomfortable.
I say use whichever mic works for you. If it happens to be a handsfree, please hide the mic cords behind your shirt buttons and tuck the excess cord in your waistline. Sloppy cords equal sloppy speaker.
All of this may seem a bit complicated but for a speaker, learning to properly use a mic is like a carpenter learning to properly use a hammer. Congratulations on successfully completing the course! Do me a favor, the next time you hear someone approach a mic and say, “Is this thing on?,” stop the meeting immediately and refer them to Microphonography 101!
Dez Thornton is a Communications Coach who helps you say the right words in the right way when they matter most! For more information, see www.dezthornton.com.