Don’t Eat the Microphone When Delivering a Presentation

Business conferenceYou slaved over preparing your talk, practiced hard, and no one in the audience heard you.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that will trip you up when you’re delivering a speech or presentation, like not using a microphone. And it is pretty easy to create the same problem in a virtual presentation where you are the actor, director and producer.

Pre-pandemic, a board member of Lincoln Center was moderating a panel in a very noisy venue and he began by stating, “I can speak loudly so I won’t use the microphone.” A chorus of “No’s” greeted his remark! He was lucky because his audience saved him the embarrassment of not being heard.

Be Considerate of Your Audience

You might not be so lucky. People may be too polite to point out they can’t hear you without a microphone. You’ve got to be considerate of your audience. Rather than asking if it’s OK if you don’t use a mike, ask them if they can hear you with the microphone.

Your voice is crucial to delivering a successful talk. Prior to the meeting, practice your talk and ask a colleague for feedback. Can you be heard in the back of the room?  Have him to do a sound check in various parts of the venue.

Practicing includes using the microphone for projection and not as a plaything. If you’re holding the mike while standing in front of a group, refrain from playing with the cord. You can tangle it or even trip on it. Don’t use it to gesture while making a point because people will miss what you’re saying.

Better yet, ask for a wireless mike that can be pinned to your lapel and then ensure that the battery pack and wires aren’t showing.

Don’t Eat the Microphone

Ideally you should hold the mike five to six inches from your mouth. MicrophoneYou don’t have to eat the mike! If you speak too closely you’ll get loud feedback and the audience will rush to cover their ears.

Awhile back we worked with a client whose executives were screaming into the microphones. We asked, “Why is everybody screaming?” Another coach had told them to project to the back of the room, but no one wants to be yelled at. It’s overkill and akin to typing in all capital letters in order to gain attention.

Learn to speak in a conversational tone. If you were speaking to a friend, you would use different voices to show emotion and concern or to ask a question. You would vary your speed – slower to make a statement and faster when you’re about to tell her something really exciting, like getting a new job.

Think of a speech in the same way, that you’re having a conversation with your audience. Would you shout in a virtual meeting or presentation? You will get positive feedback when each person in the audience feels you’re talking directly to him.

This also applies if you’re part of panel. Each panelist should have her OWN microphone. How often have you been at a conference where the panelists were passing the mike back and forth? Eventually, they get tired of doing it and started speaking without amplification. Uh, uh. Not a good idea.

Insist on your own microphone in advance of the program. This isn’t a time for the event planner to try save a few dollars. It will truly ruin your presentation if you can’t be heard in the back of the room.

Turn Off Your Microphone

Unless you’re made of stone, you will be nervous before a presentation. We advise clients to use the restroom just before speaking but be sure to turn off their wireless microphones. One of our clients took the first piece of advice but forgot the second and 200 people heard him in the restroom.

When he came on stage, he made fun of himself by saying, “I guess you heard that my presentation already started.” People laughed and his gaffe turned into an icebreaker that allowed both him and the audience to relax and enjoy the rest of his talk.

Handling the Q&A

Plan in advance how you will handle questions from the audience. Business conferenceIf you are in a large venue with many people in the audience, then it’s essential to have microphones for the Q&A. Our experience is that if you plant only one microphone in the center aisle, people will be hesitant to come up to it, or they are simply too far away to get there.

Instead, station “mike runners” with portable microphones in different sections of the room. When you call on someone, ask him to wait for the runner. Some people are so anxious that they start speaking immediately. If that happens, ask them to repeat the question into the microphone.

Then ask, “Did everyone hear the question?” If necessary, repeat the question and paraphrase it if the questioner rambled.

When preparing for your next presentation, you should practice with a microphone. Ask your A/V department to set you up.

Consider investing in your own lavalier wireless microphone system if you don’t have access to professional help. Bring it with you to your next presentation, just in case the event planner didn’t get the memo and doesn’t have a mike for you. It would be a pity to waste your talk on deaf ears.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.