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Communication Skills: Using a microphone

When You're Using a Microphone ...

A microphone is a tool to amplify your voice, not a substitute for good vocal expression. It won't make a boring voice interesting—just louder. Learn the techniques of good microphone use.

When you use a microphone, you still have to use your full voice to engage your audience and establish your identity as a speaker.

Under the pressure of presenting before an audience, a speaker can lose natural vocal expression. Be aware of that risk and guard against it. As you rehearse, experiment with volume, pitch, and rhythm to achieve optimal expression and emphasis.

By varying your volume, pitch, and rhythm, you'll be able to convey meaning and emotion. Without variation, your voice will sound boring, monotonous, and robotic.

Even though you're using a microphone, your audience will still listen for the emotional and semantic cues contained in your voice, cues that a microphone doesn't supply. Use vocal diversity to make sure your audience understands and feels the tone of your message.

"Experiment with volume, pitch, and rhythm."

Do a sound check.
In some situations, a technician may set up the sound system and actively control the levels while you speak. In that case, rely on the technician to set the right levels for the size of the room and the audience. But make sure you get rehearsal time so you can participate in the sound testing.

In other situations, a technician may set up the system and leave the rest to you. In that case, do the sound check yourself. Don't be tempted to skip it. Even if you have experience using a microphone, every system or room presents potential issues for which you need to be prepared.

Find someone to act as your audience, moving around the room to evaluate sound volume and quality. Test for the levels that fill the room with sound. Then go slightly louder to compensate for the murmuring and rustling of an actual audience.

If you have no access to a technician and have to set up the system yourself, keep written instructions nearby. Follow them precisely. Take extra care with the sound check to make sure the system is operating properly.

Know how the microphone works.
Obvious as it may seem, know when a microphone is on or off. You certainly don't want to be caught broadcasting remarks that you meant as a private comment. Nor do you want to get off to a great start, only to find that the mike is off. So make a mental note of the off, on, standby, or mute modes. Before and after you speak, switch to the appropriate mode.

The lavaliere mike: placement is key.
The lavaliere mike is the type that clips to the speaker's clothing, so how you dress is a primary concern. Wear something with a lapel or tie so the mike can be easily clipped to it. A jacket or a blouse that opens in the front will also do, as long as you can fasten the lavaliere firmly.

A lavaliere mike can be wired or wireless. The wireless type makes an additional sartorial demand: its transmitter pack will be attached to clothing in the back of your body near your waist. So wear a belt or something with a pocket to keep the transmitter in place and neatly out of the way.

Most types of lavaliere mikes work best when placed eight to 10 inches below the chin-ideally, in the center. If you're using slides, fasten the mike slightly more towards the side where the slides are, since you'll be looking at the slides from time to time as you speak. If the mike is placed too high, it'll create hot and cold spots when you turn your head. (Imagine that the base of the letter "V" is coming up from microphone. You can move your head within that "V" and be heard.)

Make sure buttons, material, jewelry, and strands of hair are well out of the way. If they hit or rub against the mike when you move or shift your stance, each small rustle will be amplified and transmitted.

"If the mike is placed too high, it'll create hot and cold spots when you turn your head."

The lectern mike: position yourself properly.
If you're using a microphone that rests on a lectern or stand, be sure to place yourself at the proper distance. The capabilities of different equipment make different demands on the speaker, so find the position that will clearly capture and carry your voice. Speak over or across the microphone, not into it.

Make sure that the microphone (or anything else that may be on the lectern) does not block your face or interfere with your gestures and movement.

Stand with good posture.
To create sound, the vocal apparatus needs breath and space. Enable your voice by standing straight, aligning your head with your spine.

Warm up to avoid throaty tension. If you're hunched, bent, or tense, the sound waves you produce will bounce around your throat rather than flow out toward your audience.

Twisting or bending the neck puts your voice at a biomechanical disadvantage. By holding your head up and not looking down, you will assure that air flows out smoothly as you speak.

By standing upright, you will improve the sound of your voice and facilitate the most effective use of the microphone. From an upright stance, you won't be talking into the microphone, but across it. That's what you want to do.

Don't crowd the mike.
Most people get too close to the microphone. Crowding the microphone will distort your posture and your voice. Don't get so close to the mike that you could chomp a bite out of it. The microphone is designed to capture a voice that flows over or across it, not into it. If you get too close, the mike will amplify every breath, every snap of your jaw, every click and hiss of the words you pronounce.

Crowding the mike can also create annoying feedback, popping, and screeching from which most audiences will recoil. While your listeners may tolerate one or two such incidents, they will tune you out if the problem persists.

In communication, your goal is always to reach your audience. The vocal elements you build into your delivery have everything to do with achieving that goal. And keep in mind: The microphone is a tool. It won't turn a poor delivery into a good one.


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