SpeakerNet News Compilations

Microphone Techniques and Tips

Bill Stainton

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Here are the compiled answers to my question about microphone techniques and tips.

— Jim Bouchard

I was also a musician and audio tech for years. I’ve seen a lot of do’s and don’ts for mics.

Today, wireless lavs and the nearly invisible “boom” mics are the best choices for speakers. Here are some tips I’d offer for using wireless lavs:

Don’t be cheap! It’s tempting to buy a $49 wireless lav: you get what you pay for. The stories about airport voice traffic and McDonald’s drive-through window hatter coming through a PA system are TRUE! I once had to trouble-shoot McDonald’s orders coming through a system five minutes before putting a baseball game on the air. Today’s technology reduces this problem, but you’ve got to invest in good equipment. I recommend a “diversity” system, UHF is preferable and multiple channels are extremely useful to switch quickly if there is interference. This is becoming a wireless world and you should be prepared.

Use the foam windscreen at all times. Some speakers don’t like the look of the little foam ball. Your audience will not notice it, and it cuts down on a lot of the scuffling and scratching noise from the movement of clothing.

ALWAYS use a mic. I’ve got one of those voices that has good tone and resonance to about 10 feet. Past ten feet, or in a room with a lot of ambient noise, my voice gets lost. I can project and make it work, but then my voice is fatigued quickly. The fact is that when you push your voice past its natural limit, you will strain.

You make your living with your voice; invest in the proper tools. Use a small PA when you’re speaking to any group where you might have to raise your voice. My rules of thumb are these, I use a mic when:

  • I can’t shake hands with everyone in the audience within two steps.
  • There’s a second row.
  • There’s ambient noise in the room above a whisper.
  • I’m trying to have a normal conversation in a room and find I have to raise my voice.

Today you can get a great portable PA system, complete with case and wheels for under $1,500. You don’t have to blow people out of the seats, in a small room you can add just enough volume so you can have a conversation without raising your voice. I’ve talked with speakers who don’t want to use a mic because they feel it separates them from their audience. I disagree: shouting separates you from your audience, and there’s nothing that will separate you from your audience more than if they simply can’t hear you.

With a PA, you can also add a little warmth to your voice, take the edge off any shrillness or add just a touch of reverb.

I also find that hearing myself through the PA improves my diction.

Perhaps best of all, you can invest in a digital recorder and record “off the board” or from the extra output provided on most good wireless mic receivers and you’ll have a high-quality recording of every event for self-critique, Web site content and future BOR products.

— Patrick Donadio

Here are tips for men:

When wearing a wireless lavaliere, if you move around a lot like I do the cord gets in the way and looks funny. Here is how I control that. I clip the mic on my tie and then run the cord behind my tie. To help it stay there I open a shirt button, place the cord in and button the shirt (so the cord runs in above the button and out below). Then I run the cord down and tuck a loop behind my belt buckle. Then continue to run the cord along my belt (tucking it in occasionally) back to the unit. I clip the unit of my belt (on the side or my back) and tuck any excess cord in the belt. I find I never have a problem with the cord slipping out, dangling or getting in the way.

It might sound complicated but it takes less than two minutes.

— Joel Blackwell

I speak for groups of 10 to 5,000 and sometimes the small groups don’t understand the energy-saving benefits of a microphone and how using one adds a different atmosphere to a meeting.

A big step for me many years ago was to specify on my meeting planner checklist “Meeting Room Requirements” the line

“Wireless lapel mic (no matter how small the room).”

Before that, I would arrive to find an impecunious meeting planner had decided I didn’t need one to save $50. I no longer get that, but maybe it’s because my fees and the wealth of my clients went up.

— Mike Landrum

I saw a business presenter use a lav mic once while she gave a PowerPoint presentation. Problem was, she clipped the mic to the right lapel of her jacket. Every time she turned her head to the left to look at the slides, her voice disappeared. Keep lavs centered is the take-away here.

For comic relief, review the film “Singing in the Rain” — they demonstrate some classic problems using microphones in the early days of sound movies.

— Rosemary Verri

My only advice for the wireless hand-held: new battery. I use the equipment provided at a venue. I always test it. I always have a new battery next to me! Once, I did not ask the question: “Is this a new battery for this performance?” And once the battery died, 250 people, after dinner, no new battery to be found! Crazy.

For keynoting, I prefer hand-held because the sound is pretty much in my control.

— Vic Osteen



— Resli Costabell

A few times, I’ve been asked to wear around my neck a hearing loop for the deaf. Each time, there’s been just one hearing loop, so my introducer has had to remove the hearing loop and hand it to me to put on. What’s imperative is that if you’re wearing a lapel microphone, you try on the hearing loop *with* the microphone in advance. Otherwise, you find yourself giving a presentation to 350 senior executives and realize that the crunching sound is the hearing loop scraping against the microphone. Yes, that was the voice of experience.

— Ed Primeau

  • First, when using your own wireless microphone in several different locations and cities, check with the meeting facility for the frequencies they use in their property. Make sure one of them is not your frequency. Keep your frequency handy for easy reference. When you jam frequencies, the microphone will squeak, squeal or chirp.
  • Best wireless systems are diversity (two-antenna). They have the best reception. Shure, AKG and Audio Technia are my favorites.
  • Countryman makes a very cool headset microphone, the connector will plug into many wireless systems. Purchase one and take that with you.
  • If you are ever concerned with a meeting facility’s speaker system, call their audio visual department and ask directly for their opinion. You may want to add a powered speaker system to supplement the pie plate (ceiling) speakers. About $100 to rent. Will help everyone hear your words.

— Ivy Meadors

We produce conferences for a living and bought all our own equipment (wireless mics, projectors, computers, remote controls, etc.) We held a conference in San Diego, near the military base on Coronado Island. Unbeknownst to us, our microphones were on the same frequency with the military communications. We could hear them over the mics. It caused the mics not to work without a lot of interference. The resort said they used wired mics to avoid this problem or low-quality mics that used other frequencies. Sometimes the base communications were too strong. At times, no microphones could be used.

I watched a speaker use a wired mic that had a coupler/extender on the cord. She had on a skirt without pockets. She dropped the coupler/extender over the edge of her skirt with the heavy part on the inside of her waistband. As she was moving around the coupler/extender slipped down inside her skirt and was dangling between her legs below the hemline of her skirt — pretty embarrassing for her. Solution: always have pockets handy if you don’t know what sort of equipment you’ll be using.

We bought our own wireless microphones (super high quality) and never rent them. We have better equipment this way and can be guaranteed they always work. We always put fresh batteries in before a trip. The cost of a single wireless mic is less than the daily rental at most hotels and resorts. Consider buying your own mics if you put on your own events and have to rent equipment. We have handhelds and lavs to accommodate different speaker needs. This has been very useful because sometimes you want to get audience participation and it is nice to have your lav on and a handheld to pass around.

— Peggy Morrow

I have a horror story. I was speaking in a meeting room situated next to the Houston ship cannel. I had paid a videographer to come tape me and everything. When a big ship passed by, their navigational system knocked out all the sound, both on my microphone and the one hooked up to the video. Who would have known? I got no video but still had to pay the guy because it was not his fault!

Twice I have had a hotel promise to get me a microphone or fix the one I had and they never followed through. I had to speak to a group of over 200 with no microphone. Needless to say, it affected my evaluations. Short of turning into a raving you know what, I don’t know what to do in that situation.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions