Microphone technique for speeches and presentations

Don't point that thing at me

When I'm doing stand-up or a capella at commerical gigs, somebody important often wants to "say a few words".

(First off - this is always a bad idea. Everybody hates speeches; and your guests know why they are there and who is paying - so why torture them?)

So anyway, some guy (it's almost always a guy) in a dark suit (sigh...) comes up and asks to use one of our microphones. Of course we have to say yes, because he is paying for the evening. So he grabs the mike, gives a big smile, and proceeds to make himself look like a complete klutz in front of his important guests because he has no idea how to use the dang thing.

This is what he should have known:

1. Never bang on a mike to see if it is switched on. Nobody likes to hear "K'THUMP!" at 90 dB. Assume it is live - if not, you will know as soon as you try to speak. (You probably shouldn't say "wuhn, two" either, unless you are wearing bright white sneakers and a Spinal Tap or Iron Maiden t-shirt. If you are, then such behaviour is perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged.)

2. Hold the mike about a handsbreadth from your mouth. Further away, and you will have to be turned up (which means there will be more interference), any closer and you will sound like the Voice of GOD. This is fun, but probably not the effect we are going for.

3. Speak into the mike, not over it. We often see TV hosts and journalists holding mikes casually in front of their chest, with the mike pointed straight up (like the gameshow host left). It looks great, but those lucky chaps have specialist equipment or overhanging maxillas.

The million dollar tip: imagine the mike is a flashlight and try to shine it at the roof of your mouth. The guy on the right has it just right.

4. THE KILLER: Keep the mike still, relative to your mouth. The smallest change in the position of the mike relative to your mouth can change the volume enormously. A quick physics lesson - the energy of the sound decreases with the square of the distance from the source. That means, if your mike started three inches from your mouth and you move it to six inches away, you just got four times quieter. Congratulations. Move it to a foot away, and you are sixteen times quieter... And of course, if you turn your head to the side, you must follow with the mike or you will have the same dramatic loss in volume.

5. Don't yell, just speak normally. If you are too quiet or too loud, move the mike slightly to adjust, or just keep talking and look at the technician. He will understand. If you are some kind of charismatic and absolutely need to yell for dramatic effect, move the mike to an easy arm's length or your audience will lose their eardrums.

6. If you get a horrible screeching noise, put your hand over the mike or stick it in your armpit, and wait a second*. You have probably moved too close to the speaker. Move away or give the technician time to adjust. It is traditional to give the sound man a forgiving smile at this point - unfair, but it makes you look good, and he is used to the abuse.

7. When you have finished, don't put the mike down on a hard surface. It will go "KCHTT'THUMP" (as you put it down...), "rrrrrrrrrrrr" (as it rolls off the piano...), "wheeeeeee" (as it plunges to the floor) and "BOOM!!!" (as it hits). This is a Bad Thing. Instead, hand it to someone or - if you know how - switch it off and clip it into its stand.

Right, all you rich industry bosses. Now you know - so no more excuses.

* VIP reader David recommends against this - see the Comments.

Gameshow photo by Lars Hammar at flikr.
Good positioning photo from englishpen at flickr.


Anonymous said...

10x :)

Anonymous said...

If you put your hand over the mic, you'll often cause MORE feedback (seen it many times). Instead, your suggestion to move is best.

And move the mic closer to your mouth instead of further away (which also causes more feedback).

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks for the tip David. Weirdly, that never happened to me. I'll try it next time!



Anonymous said...

This is so funny, brilliantly written AND useful!! It's the Kinder Überraschungsei (Spannung, Spiel UND Schokolade) of microphone speech-coaching, so to say...

...I just wished you had told me before my last speech... :))))))))))


Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks Gitta! :)