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Why carry your own microphone?

Ken Braly

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Here are responses I received to the following question:

For those of you who own and carry your own wireless mic (and receiver, and mixer, and whatever), I have a question: why? Is it for speaking at facilities which have no a/v staff? Is it because a/v companies have bad equipment? I haven't yet run into a problem with what has been supplied to me, so I wonder if this is something I should have.

For more information about selecting wireless microphones, see this article.

-- Larry Kutner

I always carry two wireless handheld microphones and a backup hardwired microphone plus assorted connectors (a home-made everything-to-everything kit) and cable whenever I give a presentation. Everything fits into a briefcase with enough extra room to carry copies of my speaking notes, printed intros, masters of handouts and a few small props.

I started doing this after discovering that, despite written requests for specific equipment, the client or A/V company often provided either the wrong type of microphone (e.g., a lavalier) or poor-quality gear. At one presentation in Manhattan a few years ago, the client-provided wireless mic kept picking up the radio transmissions of taxicabs as they drove by.

The only time I've found that it's difficult to use my own equipment is when my presentation is given in those conference centers or hotels that claim to have an exclusive contract with a specific A/V company. (One such company in a hotel in Washington, DC told me that I couldn't use my equipment because it might "cause their sound system to explode"--the most creative excuse for billing the client for additional equipment that I've ever heard!)

The wireless microphones I use (made by Shure) are "diversity" mics. This is very important, since each microphone transmits two signals which are slightly out of phase. The receivers, which are small and weigh only a few ounces, use two antennas instead of one. This means that there are never any dead spots on the stage due to phase cancellation. The receiver keeps comparing the signals it receives through the two antennas and uses the stronger of the two.

In addition to serving as a backup, the second wireless microphone is a great way to get questions from the audience without worrying about people tripping over cables. Occasionally, the client prefers to have someone from its staff act as a moderator of the Q&A session. This allows that person to roam freely throughout the audience.

Obviously, both microphones have to be operating on different frequencies so that they don't interfere with each other. Also, they can't operate on the same frequencies as other microphones in that area. If you're speaking at a venue which has more than one speaker, you should coordinate this with the others or with the on-site A/V company.

One way to minimize the likelihood of frequency overlap is to purchase multiple-frequency microphones (expensive) or to use so-called travelling frequencies (cheap). These are the frequencies not likely to be used by local television stations or permanently installed wireless mic systems. Although the retailer may not have this information, the microphone manufacturers will be able to tell you which travelling frequencies are available for their brand of microphone.

-- Scott Halford

I own 2 microphones and have used them maybe 20 times over the last 6 years and all locally. You're absolutely right. 99 out of 100 sites have equipment that works very well.

I wouldn't buy one...but others will swear that you must.

-- Brian Grossman

I carry a microphone because National Seminars Group, who hires me, requires it, otherwise the hotel charges, I cannot get reimbursed. Additionally, having your own eliminates "waiting" if the A/V staff does not have their own and they "run across the street" to get one.

Additionally, I record my seminars, and using my own stuff ensures the quality I need.

-- Judy Lanier

A speaker should own and carry necessary tools for the trade. While most facilities provide them, you cannot always count on them. I recall seeing one of NSA's most popular speakers do a lunch session. The wireless provided failed 5 minutes into her speech and the only other system they could provide last minute was a hand-held with cord. Being unaccustomed to (and somewhat inflexibile, in my opinion) this type of mic, the speaker decided to go mic-less while the technicians fixed the system (for over 10 minutes!). This incident caused me to purchase a good (Shure) system and carry it with me at all times whether I need it or not.

-- Bruce Blomgren

Many times I take mine to record into a cassette for my own use perhaps to include in a later mix for clients or for my own critique when I am on the road again. Only once have I found a system unacceptable at a meeting site so I agree with your first premise.

-- Dan Surface

I carry mine because it gets no feedback (at least it never has.) When I used the one supplied, I got pops and squeals all of the time. Also I can make sure that my batteries are fresh and always carry my spare. It was the best $450 investment ever. (It's a Shure microphone)

-- Ben Levitan

The number one answer is:

I like to bring a turn-key presentation to the customer. I want to make life as easy as possible for the meeting planner so I tell them all they have to provide me a space of 12' x 12' and the audience. If I could bring the room and the chairs I would. The wireless mike I have will hook into a speaker amplifier I can bring if needed. In most cases they have their own system and I can hook the receiver into their system. At conventions, microphone rental and speakers cost as much as the mike itself so in those situtations the savings are immediately apparent.

-- Judith E. Dacey

I've owned and used a Freedom wireless mic for 6 years. Here's why:

1) I prefer a wireless mic. I do not want to be tethered to lectern mic or drag a wire tail around if I'm given wired lapel or hand mic. Wireless mics cost more so often organizations resent the expense or end up not providing it by misinterpreting my request and giving me a wired mic.

2) My mic works well and dependably. It also has fresh batteries. I'm familiar with handling it. I'm web-tech savvy but mechanically ineffective so I am always cautious about a/v aides. The Freedom mic has a large, easily found toggle switch to click (blindly) when you want to turn the sound on or off. Hotel provided mics are often old, poor quality, and much heavier and bulkier.

-- Nancy Stern

I have often asked the very same question! When I first got into the business 18 years ago, I bought a freedom mike because many facilities either didn't have wireless equipment or would charge the client a lot more to use it. But, in the last eight or so years, my mike is collecting dust in the closet. It is cumbersome and just another thing to schlep around. I have not had any trouble with wireless mics since then. Don't waste your money!

-- Peg Fitzgerald

I own two Freedom mic (full system). One is for my primary use, one as we send other speakers out. (My company conducts >40 seminars/year) Why own this? Primarily to have a quality, dependable system that I know and can quickly trouble-shoot, as well as to save. We are generally charged a modest patch fee by the hotel ($25) and avoid needing to pay the AV tech and house rental system. When I speak as a consultant, and the organization is not planning on a mic, I bring mine and charge them a rental fee, recouping some of the cost. I always use a mic for programs >15 people or long sessions. Since I conduct >20, 2.5 day long seminars solo annually, in addition to a number of single and 1/2 day program, saving the wear and tear on the vocal cords alone is worth the price of the system.

-- Art Berkowitz

There have been several occasions where the only wireless mic the hotel could provide was not a lavaliere. If you prefer working with one kind of mic, that can make a big difference. I also have run into several situations where the house mic was much more sensitive to where I was standing than mine...BUT the most important reason I carry a mic is when I am attending someone else's presentation. On three separate occasions, either the organization didn't have a mic or the mic they had didn't work (once because it was not cordless). I asked if they would like to use my mic which I just happened to have in my briefcase, because I was a professional speaker. In each case, this has led to a subsequent relationship with the organization.

-- Meggin McIntosh

I live in the state of Nevada, and except for Las Vegas, we are a pretty rural state. I carry my own microphone because too many places I go to speak (including Las Vegas) only have handheld or fixed mikes.... Even when I go to other states, I often bring my own mike in my suitcase because I have gotten to hotels in Phoenix, Boston, etc....and they *said* that had a wireless lavaliere, but when I got there...they didn't.

-- Jim Brown

When I first started speaking, Terry Paulson told me if I want it, bring it. I record all my programs. I bring my own recorder. Thus I have the hookups to go from mike to tape and have the recording straight from my mike not the house. I just returned from a cruise where I brought my own mike and one day it didn't work (I gave him the wrong plug) and I had to use a hand held mike. It threw me off because I am use to the cordless lavaliere. I was restricted in my hand movement.

I bring my own because I know what I will have everywhere I go and it enables me to be myself, which is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned from NSA.

-- Marv Marshall

I carry a cordless Freedom Mike because it is small and easily fits in my suitcase, has never failed me, has very conveniently placed switches, and has superb sound. Cordless mics that are provided often have a missing micrphone clip, a hanging antenna, and have poorly placed switches.

I found the investment well worth the price.

-- Bailey Allard

If you do decide to purchase a wireless mike, here are tips I learned the hard way:
  • The wire connecting the mike to the belt pack is very fragile....treat it with care. Wind it carefully and do not pull on it. Mine broke the first time I used it.
  • Remember to collect all the pieces, including the wireless transmitter and cables, before you depart.
  • Label all your pieces, so when/if you leave any behind, some kind hotel staff member can find you.

-- Patti Hathaway, CSP

I bought and started bringing my own wireless mic system (cheap one from Radio Shack) when I was on the road with Fred Pryor Seminars. Pryor would only provide a lavaliere microphone which was not wireless - I hated being wired because it constrained my movement in the audience and was very awkward with most women's suits.

Now I own a Freedom Wireless Mic system. I use it as value added part of my service for my clients. To rent a wireless system is very expensive in most hotels and the client wouldn't automatically rent it except for the speakers request. Keep in mind that the majority of my programs are half to full day sessions. If I were a keynoter on a program with other speakers, the client would be renting a wireless system for the whole day and not just me.

Another benefit to the wireless system is that I have also purchased a Marantz ($360 or so) audio taping system and a hot spot speaker ($380 or so) so that I have a system that totally stands alone. I bought the hot spot speaker this past year because I had a banking client I was doing about 12 days of training for that had an "auditorium" training room that only had a microphone which was built into a lectern - impossible for my style. I always use a microphone if the group is larger than 20 to save my voice. I've used my total system on many occasions. The best source for these items is http://www.camaudio.com or ask for Marcia when you call 1-800-527-3458. In hindsight, if I had known about CAMaudio before, I would have probably bought my wireless mic from them as well. I really like my freedom mic but could have bought a comparable mic system from CAM for much less money.

[Note added later: Several months ago I recommended CAM audio for recording equipment and downplayed other more expensive wireless microphones. Over the last couple of months, I've used those less expensive brands (when on the program with several speakers and the AV system was provided) and experienced problems with the audio quality, cheap clips to attach to clothing, bulky equipment, etc. I came to realize that you get what you pay for and my Freedom Mic is far superior to other brands.]

-- Dana May Casperson

I have a FreedomMike lapel and hand-held mike. The times I did not carry it with me I have had problems. When I depend on the facility to supply a good mike, the room got changed at the last minute (five minutes before my session was to begin.) Batteries always go out and they forget to tell me that there is a new battery handy. The battery went out and the clip got stuck in my clothes and I could not get it out of my jacket! Oh well, that's life! Carrying my own is a back up if I don't like the quality of the one at the facility. Perhaps this gives you one perspective.

-- Tony Schiller

I have had my own freedom mic for 4 years and love it. At least in my case, not all events are done in sophisticated venues where house equipment meets the needs. I use to speak solely in schools and found that at least 75% of their house mics were terrible, plus, I prefer a lav and few had one. Beyond that, the freedom mic has a line out which allows direct recording to cassette/dat/mini disc. It also has far better sound quality (just last Friday, the house mic I would have had to use was terrible). Finally, I like being prewired and ready vs. taking a house lav mic from introducer and needing to get mic in place in front of audience. Not a great start to a program.

-- Fire Captain Bob Smith

I do not carry my own microphone any more. I do, however, carry a portable digital recorder with two lapel mics so I can record every talk. Sometimes the hotel charges you to plug into their system, and if you have not set up with the meeting planner to have a mixer that you can plug into, you are dead. You have to carry a lot of adapters because you don't know what you are going to have to connect to; it can be a nightmare.

-- Mike McKinley, CSP, CPAE

I carry my own microphone, both lavalier and hand-held. Half the time I use it, and half the time I use the hotel's equipment (and 20% of that, the hotel equipment turns out to be bad so I need my own). I tape every program, recording it into a DAT machine plugged into the house equipment.

Carrying my own mic gives me peace of mind. I get it serviced every six months, and I don't have to worry about running into low-quality a/v equipment and inexperienced staff.

-- Joe Healey

Most mics that are provided by A/V people are top-notch. However, I think the most important reason to have and sometimes carry your own wireless (dual diversity with volume control) mic is that your voice is key in a presentation. Yes, sometimes A/V people don't have good equipment or, worse yet, don't know how to adjust the house mic for you.

The benefit of your own is that you (should have) already tuned the gain to your voice. And if the house system is too hot (high) you can control the volume from your unit. Dual diversity is important because it keeps other transmissions like police radios from coming into your talk. Shure makes a very good wireless, lav. mic for around $200 to 300. Get a hand-held on the same frequency and go into the audience and use it to let their voice be heard. (You must remember to turn off your mic while using the hand-held or it will conflict since it is on the same frequency.)

-- Judith Briles

I think it's an ego thing -- I've never had any problems that weren't fixed fairly quickly. With all the stuff we haul (books, etc.) the last think I need is another gadget that takes up room.

-- Mark S A Smith

Larry Kutner (above) said,
"The wireless microphones I use (made by Shure) are "diversity" mics. This is very important, since each microphone transmits two signals which are slightly out of phase. The receivers, which are small and weigh only a few ounces, use two antennas instead of one. This means that there are never any dead spots on the stage due to phase cancellation. The receiver keeps comparing the signals it receives through the two antennas and uses the stronger of the two."
The actual situation is that the microphone does not transmit on two frequencies, but that there are two receivers in a diversity system. Technically speaking, the antennas are separated by 1/4 wave length - that's why they need to be at 45 degrees from the top of the cabinet - because reflections of the radio waves from the walls can cancel out the signal and cause the signal to drop out. Control circuitry selects the receiver that has the strongest signal to eliminate the drop out effect. I suggest always purchasing a diversity mic for performers who move around.

My view has always been... if you were hiring a carpenter and they asked to borrow your hammer and saw, would you consider them to be professional? No? Then why are you "borrowing" a microphone every time that you work? The microphone is the tool of our trade. Own the best you can afford, know how it works in every situation, and stop whining about the technology.

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