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How to speak in to a microphone

When giving a speech, a presentation or a book reading, I think we'd all like the audience's first impression of us to be one of eloquence, calmness and interest. Saying "can you hear me at the back?" is not the best way to achieve this. Even worse is to be interrupted by someone at the back saying "speak up, we can't hear you" as this will knock your confidence and your train of thought. Unfortunately both of these things happened at a book club event I went to at the weekend (in a pub, with authors & an entrance fee).

How can we avoid this and, instead, be that confident and articulate speaker? Practice. In the venue, on the stage, with the microphone. If there's no microphone, it's just as important to practice projecting your voice to the back of the room. Get there in advance of the audience's arrival so you can learn how to adjust the height of the mic, how to turn it on and how to speak into it. Even if there are people in the room, just take a few seconds to speak in to it…without saying "testing 1, 2, 3". Have a conversation with the event organiser or recite a bit of poetry instead.  

I turned to
The Twitter and Facebook for wise advice from people who have spoken in to
microphones. Sara Batts (@DrBattyTowers) is spot on when she says, "Don't hold it too close. Don't shout into it. Don't be
afraid to ask venue to turn up volume." This is important – s
peak at your normal
volume. Sara adds, "remember it's sound reinforcement, often, not massive
amplification, not a rock concert." We want the audience to hear us as if we
were in a small meeting room, talking without technology.
 
So how far away from the
microphone should you position yourself? The speakers at this particular book event stood too far back. Andy Blair (@AndyBlairUK) often
finds himself speaking and singing into a mic (both professionally, though not
at the same time). He offers this: "
Always have the mic away from your mouth by the distance of between
your thumb and tip of your index finger… Only for speaking, not for
singing…helps minimise plosives." Katharine Schopflin (@Schopflin) echoes this, saying a
handsbreadth between you and the mic will prevent feedback but then speak right
into it.
 

Think
about what other speakers do that you feel doesn't work. My friend Ed did just
that –
"
Don't
blow into the microphone to see if it's working. It makes a horrible
noise. A
nd
don't dip your head down to the microphone to speak (like students do on
University Challenge)…it makes you look stupid." So, take Cindy's advice,
"i
f
you have to adjust the mic due to height, hit mute before you do it. Otherwise
you get super loud squeaky
noises."

Standing up to speak in front of any audience is nerve-wracking enough without having to worry about whether or not you can be heard. And for anyone who has never done drama or performance, being able to control the sound and volume of your voice is yet another thing, in addition to your content, that can make you anxious. Familiarising yourself with the room and the technology means that you can concentrate on your words.

And to finish with a cautionary tale from my friend Jess – don't take a wireless mic to the toilet without turning it off!

– Suzanne

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