Many people who are a little less experienced when speaking in public often worry about using a microphone and feel that it will cause more issues than it solves. However, generally speaking with the use of a microphone has many positives that really outweigh any concerns.
Developing good microphone technique is important and can really help you to sound at your best. There are a number of things to be aware of that don’t require lots of specialist knowledge or the need to have the understanding of a sound technician!
It is a good idea to know the microphone you are using and have had experience using it before making your speech. Try to get some time in the room before your audience arrives just to try out the microphone and make sure everything is working as it should.
There are a wide variety of microphones available and they can all produce very different results. The two main types that you will most likely come across are dynamic and condenser microphones. Very generally speaking, dynamic microphones are great for close up work and can often take quite a large amount of sound volume (signal).
Condenser microphones are a little more delicate and are great for picking up sounds from more of a distance. There are two types of condenser microphone and they are small diaphragm and large diaphragm.
When you are using a dynamic microphone, it is a good idea to hold the microphone around 6-8” from your face. If possible, it is best to use a stand or lectern. If you are reading a speech this will most likely be the most preferred way of working.
Make sure that if you are using a powerpoint or display on a computer you are situated so that you do not need to keep turning around as this can look quite unprofessional. Aim to have a remote control presenter and pointer as this will allow you to move freely from the computer, highlight important things and really focus on delivering your amazing content. However, if you are planning on moving around, then it would be best to have a wireless microphone. These can be handheld microphones or have a Lavalier or clip on microphone.
Using a wireless mic will allow the freedom to move around a lot more which is very useful if you are not using a script. If you want to use your own, you can get a single frequency setup for around £35. This is obviously an entry level package but should work perfectly well.
When using a clip on microphone it is important to make sure that you wear suitable clothing that the clip will attach to well. Also, it should be able to be clipped somewhere that will not have fabric or hair brushing against it as this will cause a great deal of noise and reduce sound quality.
If you are having to set up the audio equipment yourself, you can try the following ideas for getting a good sound. Place the microphone at a distance from your mouth. A good way of getting the right sort of distance is to push your chin into your chest and allow a minimum of the space of your fist. In very general term, the best way to set up your volume is to have the gain turned down to around 50% to 60% and then the volume adjusted up or down as necessary. then adjust your EQ (if available) by altering high frequency, mid frequency and low frequencies.
Common Problems and how to avoid them:
Sibilance - this is the horrible hissing sound you can get from saying the ’s’, ’t' and ’z’ sounds. They can often be quite piercing and uncomfortable to listen to. Usually this problem occurs at the 5kHz to 8kHz frequency range. You can help to reduce this issue by moving a little further away from the microphone. You could also aim the microphone down a little so that it points towards your throat.
Plosives - this is the explosive sounds that are produced from ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds. This can be reduced by moving the microphone away a little more, reducing the gain (not the volume!), adjusting the squelch (if you are using a wireless microphone) and pointing the microphone toward the bridge of your nose.
Poor EQ - The speaking voice has different frequency ranges. Understanding how these work can help you to understand how the EQ can be altered to make the best of the sound of your voice. Vowel sounds usually happen between 350Hz and 2kHz. These sounds have the most power and energy. Consonant sound usually happen between 1.5Hz and 4kHz. These sounds are really important to help people understand what is being said.
It isn’t really possible to give a definitive guide that will work for everybody and every environment and it is important to use your ears and go with a best fit at the time. Please remember that if somethings works really well once, there is no guarantee that it will work brilliantly again in different circumstances.
- A good start to adjusting EQ would be to turn down the low frequencies a little bit. This will remove the boominess of the sound. It is important not to take off too much as this will remove the depth of the sound.
- If you want to add further clarity to the sound you could turn up the 1Khz to 5KHz range.
- If you want to increase the brightness of the sound you can turn up the 3Khz to 6Khz range.
Feedback - To avoid getting a feedback loop, aim to place the speakers in front of the microphone that you are using, or at a good height above the microphone on good microphone stands. Always avoid pointing the microphone directly at the speakers and make sure when you hold the microphone you keep your hand away from the metal guard at the top. It is best to avoid cupping the microphone as this can cause lots of noise in the treble register which can be very uncomfortable for your listeners. Adjusting the gain settings (or squelch with a wireless microphone) will also be helpful for reducing the signal input.
Distortion - If you are noticing that the sound of your voice is distorting it could be a problem with the microphone being to close to your mouth, having the gain turned up too high or problems with leads/speakers. The best advice when facing any audio problems is to start with the easiest things to fix and then move through a list. Firstly, check the distance of the microphone to see if this makes things better. Then check the gain levels to see if this resolves the problem. If this does not fix the problem, look at checking to see if there is a problem with the speakers by playing a CD or audio from a computer or phone. If this works well then you will know that the leads and speakers are all working fine and that the issue lies with the microphone equipment that you are using. If this doesn’t work well then there could be a problem with the leads or speakers. If you are using a venue where this is all installed, it is time to speak to the person in charge of the audio equipment - if you damage the equipment you could be liable for repair or replacement so it’s best to leave it alone. If it your own equipment, check the leads by replacing one at a time. If the speakers are damaged, the only way to fix this will be to replace them - not great if you are just about to start you speech or presentation!
When thinking about needing to adjust or change settings, the most important thing you can remember is the brilliant saying,
‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it'
More problems can be caused by over tinkering or adjustment so generally speaking it is always best to leave well only!
What experiences have you had in the past that you really learned from?