Microphonology? Make the most of your voice!

microphonologyVeteran sound engineer and event producer, Brian Young, spoke at our November 13 NJ Speakers Bureau meeting.  His lecture, “Sonic Survival for Speakers,” contained a wealth of information about the proactive steps public speakers can take to improve the sound quality of their presentations and reduce the potential for problems with microphones and amplification.


As emerging speakers, we need to wear many hats, and need to step up to make sure every aspect of our success is addressed.

Below are just a few of the important tips that he shared with us, listed with permission from his materials and handouts.  Brian is an excellent resource, and expert (!), in making ‘the talent’ (that’s us) sound  our best, so we can focus on delivering our best, and our audiences can hear us best.  He’s the goto expert in this field, and there is no one like him.  For more information about Brian and his work, visit his company website:  www.parallelvoice.net. Check him out for all your sound needs, and tell  him you heard about him through the Bureau!

And now, the ‘rules’:


  1. In most normal situations, a handheld microphone will be most effective when held within a couple of inches of the mouth – NOT in front of your chest or belt buckle.  The Microphone should be held further away if you are yelling, if the sound system is way too loud, if there is too much bass on the microphone, or if popping sounds cannot be eliminated by changing the angle of the mic. (see below)
  2. A handheld microphone is usually a better choice than a lavalier (clip-on mic) for speakers with softer voices because a handheld mic can be held very close to the mouth, where the sound is the strongest. In most cases, a handheld mic will provide better sound quality and less danger of feedback than lavaliers and lectern mics.
  3. Always try to schedule a sound check before your speech / event, so that the microphone can be tested for feedback and properly adjusted by the sound technicians to fit the volume and tone of your voice. If there is no technician on site to do a sound check  (like at many of our local association and group events), have a friend or colleague listen to your amplified voice from the audience position before the event begins, and make whatever adjustments are necessary.
  4. When using any type of wireless microphone, always use fresh batteries and always have a backup mic standing by in case of signal loss or other problems. Wireless mics are more likely to fail than wired mics.
  5. Avoid walking directly in front of the PA system loudspeakers when holding or wearing a microphone. This can cause extremely loud, instantaneous feedback.
  6. On average, the best position for a lavalier microphone in a public speaking situation is usually in the center of the chest, approximately 3 to 6 inches below the chin (depending on the speaker’s vocal characteristics). If you will be facing only to one side or the other during your entire presentation (as with some interviews or panel discussions), the lavalier can be clipped to the lapel on the side that you will be facing.
  7. When wearing a lavalier microphone: wear clothing which will allow you to firmly clip the mic in the position indicated above. Positioning the mic too far from the mouth can create problems, especially if you have a soft voice. Avoid wearing a long necklace or other jewelry that could bump into the mic or make rattling, rustling or jangling noises that will be amplified. Do not allow the mic to be covered by a scarf or other fabric.
  8. In most cases, you should continue to project normally when using a microphone.  The sound quality will usually be best when the mic does not have to be turned up extremely high (although there are many variables that can affect the ways in which this rule is applied).
  9. Advance planning / preparation and proactive attention to detail are critical when dealing with audiovisual matters. Not all venues have technicians, not all meeting planners understand the technical aspects of events, and not all technicians and meeting planners are equally experienced and proficient. Unless you are speaking at a high profile, professionally produced event or at a high quality venue with experienced, professional technicians, you should be prepared to be your own quality control manager.
  10. On certain occasions, miraculously, some of the rules of microphonology will be broken and everything will be fine anyway. This eternal mystery may never be solved. Sound can sometimes behave very strangely.

Too many times, we Emerging Speakers tend to leave some things ‘to the experts’ because we are just so excited to have the opportunity to speak in person.  We get so busy preparing the speech that we forget about everything else.  Brian presented a ton of incredible info to think about to improve the quality of our presentation.  Our goal is to create Speakers that planners and audiences connect with, remember, and want to have back. One of the most important ways to do that is by ensuring your audience stays mesmerized and focused on you and your message – not distracted by audio feedback, static distortion, sound pops; your wardrobe ‘swooshing’, or the simple inability to hear you clearly.

Follow Brian’s tips the next time you speak, and leave your notes here!  Feel free to comment or leave questions below.

Don’t forget to check him out the next time he presents, or his other materials and services! And don’t forget, as you move up the Emerging Speaker ladder of success, from events over dinner, to bigger venues and even your own venues, don’t forget about the sound. Make sure to work with an expert like Brian. You worked long and hard on creating that masterful presentation, don’t let last minute sound distortions muck it all up in a second.

To your Speaking Success,



Tags: , , ,

No comments yet.