Public speakers: Five tips for using a microphone

It isn't really complicated. Here's how to do it. Photo: Wikimedia

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2013 – As a public speaker—either a beginner or a pro—you’re already fully aware that you’re generally going to have to use a microphone when you’re making your presentation. But how you use that microphone can make all the difference in the world.

If you don’t make a clear, crisp, intelligible, and authoritative impression on your audience because you really don’t know what to do with a microphone, your presentation will fall flat, people will get frustrated or tune out. And you’ll end up wasting all the time, effort, and preparation time that went into your speech or presentation.

Here’s the deal. Right from the start, I’m not even going to tell you how a microphone works. First, I’m not an electronics expert or an acoustician. And second, you don’t really need to know the science behind microphones anyway. So we won’t be dealing with technologies or theories. Just common sense.

What you do need to know about microphones is simply this: there are generally two kinds that are used in public speaking. One kind, called a lavaliere (lava-leer) attaches to your lapel. The second kind is a little larger and either fixed on a microphone stand or podium or held in someone’s hand.

Either kind can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Part of that relationship is up to you. The other part is up to the competence of the audio people you’re going to be dealing with. Unless you’re a professional speaker or bring your own equipment, it’s not your responsibility to micromanage the audio setup. The host venue is generally paid to do that for you.

If you’re giving a speech, you’ve got enough on your mind to get yourself ready without worrying about what’s beyond your control. Today, we’re going to address how you’ll approach working with that second variety of microphone.

Holding the microphone

First, don’t eat the mic. Too close to it, and you’ll sound loud and fuzzy: way too loud, and incomprehensibly fuzzy.

Don’t sit or stand stiffly. Let your muscles relax, but don’t go slack.

You don’t want to drop the microphone or scrunch the sound, so hold it near the middle of its stem.

Make sure it’s on

If you’re not sure the microphone is ON, tap the top screen gently. If you can’t figure out how to get volume from it, don’t start fooling with it and getting nervous. Remember, you’re there to speak as an expert in some subject area, but it’s not audio technology.

Just hand the microphone back to whomever gave it to you and say, as graciously and authoritatively as possible, “Would you make sure this is working, please?” It’s on them. Not you.

How to prep for using a microphone

No microphone, no matter how advanced, can add proper enunciation, energy, or enthusiasm to your voice. It can’t slow you down when you talk too fast, and it can’t tell you to stop mumbling or to shut up when you’ve gone on too long.

Your best bets for dealing with enunciation, energy, and enthusiasm?

1. Learn how to enunciate in your everyday speech. It’s like manners. If you know how to behave (or speak) properly, you’ll know how to act relaxed and natural when company comes. Use the same approach at the podium, and you’ll likely sound just fine when your voice is amplified.

2. It follows then that the mic will amp your confidence and energy, or lack of both. To deliver your speech with energy and authority, be sure that you’re adequately fed, watered, and well-rested before you speak.

3. If your enthusiasm isn’t truly genuine prior to your speech or presentation, you’ll sound fake-fake-fake—guaranteed—when you try to kick things up a notch with a microphone. The solution? Never talk about a subject you don’t feel genuinely enthusiastic about.

Speaking clearly while avoiding and controlling feedback on the fly 

Speak directly and clearly into the microphone. A great many modern mics are “omnidirectional,” but you’re nearly always going to be best off when you aim your voice directly at the top surface of the microphone.

If you vary your vocal volume a lot, move the mic slightly away from your mouth during your louder or more enthusiastic moments. But no matter how pumped up you get, remember: never yell. We will visibly cringe or even run away if you yell. Not only is this irritating. It can also risk incurring the wrath of that monster in any auditorium: Feedback.

Feedback happens because the sound you’re putting out keeps getting recycled through the equipment where it builds up to a shriek, almost like it can’t stand itself anymore.

As an amateur audio technician, you can do two things that will usually rectify the problem fast:

1. Make sure the sound coming out of you is the only sound the mic receives. Neverpoint the microphone anywhere except toward your own mouth.

2. Make sure that any (non-human) acoustic speakers don’t blast already amplified sound back into your mic. You’ll likely get feedback immediately. If this starts happening, move the microphone stand until the feedback stops. If you’ve removed the mic from the stand and are using it as a hand-held device, step away from the likely offending speaker or speakers until the feedback stops. Then stay pretty much glued to that spot. No more wandering, lest you wander right back into the sound recycling bin and start the feedback up all over again.

If this is cramping your style, and if you chance to have a break in your presentation, get hold of one of your venue’s sound guys and have him adjust the positioning of the offending speaker or speakers.

Make the microphone work for you

Never adapt yourself to a microphone. Make the microphone adapt to you. If the audience can’t hear you and you’re holding the microphone, bring a little closer to your mouth. If microphone is on a podium, move it up or down to accommodate your needs. If the sound guys need to turn up the volume, then ask them to do so, but be careful of cranking it too high or you’ll run into that feedback loop we just discussed.

Project your voice. Don’t yell. Be friendly and in-charge. Those are the basics.

Remember: Every time you pick up a microphone to speak, you’ve already done your part of the work. Now let the microphone do its work, which is to provide support for you.

One Last Thing

Don’t Talk Too Fast.

Confidence, a good, clearly expressed message, and a steady speaking pace will assure that your presentation is well-received and long remembered.

RELATED: Check out more of Fran’s public speaking tips here.

Frances Ponick’s bookOnly Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback from the author and is now available at She coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert at AllExperts. Feel free to ask questions there, or connect with Frances at Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn 


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from


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