How Do You Use a Microphone Properly?

Is this thing on? Get the microphone tips you need to deliver a great presentation.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #49

You may remember that last week, I mentioned that I always request a wireless microphone. I got a flurry of e-mails regarding that brief comment, so I thought I’d dedicate an entire episode to microphone use. First, I’ll expand on why I think using a microphone is mandatory. Then I’ll cover some tips on how to use microphones properly.

Why Use Wireless Microphones?

Again, as I said last week, I always request a wireless microphone. However, no matter what kind of microphone, your goal is to speak in a normal conversational tone. You should never strain your voice just to be heard.

Some speakers’ normal tone is quieter than average, and so a microphone can artificially amplify (although not significantly) their voice. For those who are naturally “loud” speakers, the voice can be artificially adjusted downward to a more comfortable listening level. Again, any sort of strain will, at a minimum, limit your vocal variety, and worst case, will damage your voice.

Of course, any type of microphone can solve that problem, so why did I suggest a wireless microphone? Because most people have never been trained. They don’t know how to use a built-in microphone properly and it restricts movement. I’ve seen many speakers become frozen behind the lectern microphones; they don’t seem to want to move their head or body because they are afraid they won’t get picked up by the microphone. Or worse, they do move around and the volume of their voice fades in and out as they move.

So first, I’ll talk about proper technique for a built-in gooseneck lectern microphone-- primarily because these are standard in most rooms.

How to Use a Lectern Microphone Properly

First, you should point the microphone at your mouth because that is the part of your body that you want to amplify. Try to do this ahead of time, before it’s your turn to speak. If you’re lucky, no one will have readjusted it, but if it’s your turn and you find it is pointing at your chest or forehead, you’ll need to go ahead and adjust it. Do this quickly by bending the neck. Try not to touch the microphone itself. You might get some nasty feedback.

Next you’ll need to position yourself, specifically your mouth. You don’t want to “eat” the microphone or spit on it by being too close, but you don’t want to be too far away either. You should be about 8-10 inches away, or about two hand widths.

Technically you could go a little closer--about a fist away--but that will make your movement more restricted and difficult. With this type of microphone, the idea is to pivot or swivel around the microphone, always keeping your mouth exactly the same distance away from it. If you are about 8-10 inches away, you’ll have a little more freedom of movement. Obviously, if you turn your head completely away from the microphone you won’t be heard.

How to Move Your Body

If you want to move to the left, move your entire body left, but leave your head angled right toward the microphone. As you shift positions again, just remember to always keep your mouth angled toward the microphone and approximately the same distance away. For most people, that takes some practice in order to look smooth and natural and to keep the sound level consistent.

With a handheld or wireless microphone you have the ability to completely move away from the lectern. I almost always recommend that speakers move away from the lectern-- if not for the entire presentation, for at least for part of it.

Delivering your talk from the lectern limits your ability to make a direct connection with your audience.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.