How To Give A Great Speech: Microphone Technique 101

Imagine you are an elite athlete, at the peak of your fitness and paid a quarter of a million dollars a year by the top premiership-winning team.

You have played the game of your career against your hometown rival in one of the biggest matches of the year.

You’re exhausted, elated and asked to come to the podium to accept the medal for best player in the match.

With a live, nationwide television audience watching, including hundreds of thousands of children to whom you are a role model and hero … you utter the following words in your acceptance speech …”let’s have a f…ing good year”.

This was midfielder Michael Braun from the West Coast Eagles who was fined 5,000 dollars for swearing in public after being awarded the Ross Glendinning Medal after the western derby in Perth recently.

This one remark uttered in the adrenalin rush of sport has done irreversible damage to the brand and reputation of both the West Coast Eagles Football Club and the Australian Football League (AFL).

This is why the AFL Commission met with the Eagles to deal with issues relating to off-field player behaviour.

The Eagles have been put on notice that if they appear before the Commission again they will be subject to the full force of the 1.6 rule of conduct unbecoming which can lead to a fine, suspension, loss of draft picks or premiership points.

So what is the point of sharing this story with you, especially if you have no idea what AFL is, who the Eagles are and who Michael Braun is?

Well, it demonstrates the importance of choosing your words carefully when giving a speech.

It reminded me of the golden rules of microphone technique.

Here are ten tips on microphone technique to maximise your message, and not ruin your reputation, when giving a speech.

1. Never Swear In Front Of A Microphone

I learnt this golden rule whilst a broadcaster at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Never ever swear in front of a microphone because you never know when it is on!

This mistake can cost you money, such as $5,000 but your personal or professional reputation is priceless.

Remember you can never take it back so it is better to be disciplined in the first place.

2. Use A Microphone If More Than 30 People

The human voice is a delicate instrument.

Treat it with respect. Do not strain it because you can do long term and irreversible damage.

Always ask for and use a microphone if there are more than 30 people in the audience.

Explain to the organisers what type of microphone you want well before you speak.

I usually have a set of AV requirements that I send to a conference organiser at least six weeks before I present. This includes my preferred type of microphone, lighting and how I want the stage set up.

3. Work Out The Best Microphone For The Situation – Impact, Peace of Mind and Hassle Free

A podium microphone is going to give you maximum impact for a Presidential style presentation where you use the podium as an anchor point.

The benefits of using a podium microphone are peace of mind and a hassle free speech because you can set and forget.

4. Work Out The Best Microphone For The Situation – Impact, Freedom and Mobility

A lapel microphone is very small and uses a clip to attach to clothing of the presenter.

If you want to move around and away from the podium it takes the place of a more static-position microphone.

The lapel microphone is plugged into a console which is attached to your belt and can amplify your voice without you having to hold onto it.

They are often wireless and linked back to the main PA system.

This is my preferred style of microphone.

As you get more experienced you learn to ignore the microphone and even use the tilt and angle of your head to vary your volume, tone and timbre into the microphone.

One trap for people. If you are using a lapel microphone, make sure you have turned it off before you go to the toilet.

I’ve heard of speakers relieving themselves only to find out the whole audience heard everything because their lapel microphone was still on and broadcasting to the whole auditorium!

The headset microphone is a variation but I’ve found headsets a little cumbersome and intrusive to work with.

5. Work Out The Best Microphone For The Situation – Impact, Impact and Impact

There is no doubt a hand held microphone gives you the greatest vocal range and control.

This is why it is so popular with entertainers and performers.

As a professional public speaker I find I like to use all my body for kinaesthetic speaking and find holding a hand-held microphone gets in the way of my body movement.

6. Be Familiar With The “On and Off” Switch

Even seasoned professionals can get caught out and it reflects badly on you as a presenter.

Spend time becoming familiar with the on and off switch. I’ve lost count the number of times a speaker looks unprofessional when on stage they say “how do you turn this thing on” or some variation.

7. Watch For Feedback

Feedback is really annoying for the audience.

Walk around the stage and room checking for feedback spots and adjust accordingly.

8. Use The Clenched Fist Rule

Again, I learnt this at the ABC with legendary broadcaster and speech coach Arch McKirdy.

He taught me the best way to position the microphone in relation to your mouth and lips is to make a clenched fist and this is the optimal distance the microphone should be from your mouth.

9. Speak Directly Into The Microphone

Broadcasters hate to be “off mike” because the sound quality is poor.

Always speak directly into a microphone. Use a windsock if external noise or to avoid popping with the letter “p”.

10. Always Do A Sound Check

Do a sound check before you present.

Check the whole stage for feedback spots.

Treat the professional sound crew with respect, introduce yourself and explain clearly what you want to do and rehearse especially for a complex presentation.

Thank them afterwards. Once you are ready to go on turn the microphone on.