Clear Comm Consulting

Lessons Learned After Speaking Into Microphones for 30 Years

Jul 29, 2010

Test, check, is this thing on? As you might imagine, there are plenty of mistakes you can make when you spend decades around microphones, and that’s just what I’ve done. Here are few things I learned along the way.

Quality counts: If you’ve ever had to try to speak in front of a group using an echoing, feedback ringing, crappy microphone you know what I mean. I recently went to a business event where the sound system did not cooperate and it reflected poorly on all involved. Check the system, make sure it is of sufficient quality to handle the room and audience size and realize these days there are good quality, portable systems which can cost as little as $400 to $500. (One other thing about the hardware — a good sound system consists of a quality microphone, good cable or a wireless system, an amplifier and speakers at the very least. Any one piece can let you down, so make sure the person who takes care of these details knows what they are doing.)

Keep your distance: The most common mistake I see from amateur speakers is keeping their mouth too close or too far away from the mic. Usually the magic distance is three to four inches of distance between your mouth and the microphone, but each system is different and you have to experiment a bit to get it working in top form. As you adjust to it in the first few sentences of your presentation, change your volume accordingly to make it all come together.

Watch your volume: The second most common mistake from the podium is someone who is speaking too loudly or too softly. There is only so much an audio person can do to help you in this situation. If you are yelling into the mic it almost always is a disaster and will only distort your words, not make them more powerful. If you are speaking too softly people will soon tune out because they can’t make out what you are saying.

Practice! So how do you avoid the above potential disasters? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall — practice! Get to the room early, check out the system and introduce yourself to the audio person. (They are your new best friend!) See what works in the empty room then make the adjustments necessary when it starts to fill up. Bring along someone who can stand out in the room to provide feedback, or even hand gestures, as you stand at the podium. And finally, if the system is just not working, forget it and speak as loudly as you can from the stage if possible. Your audience will be relieved someone has finally acknowledged the lousy sound system and found the old fashioned, more direct route!

Have a great August!

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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