Can You Hear Me Now?


Can you hear me now? How often have you said that to somebody while talking on your phone? Suddenly there is silence and the call drops. You wonder what happened.

Well, this scenario happens too often with audiences. This past weekend I attended a conference where many of the speakers were, let's say, microphone challenged. In addition, the audio level was so low that it didn't amplify past the first few rows. As a result, the message wasn't heard, a sales opportunity was lost, and the audience was frustrated.

Here's what to know about using a microphone:

 Do a Sound Check. Arrive early and listen to the speakers before you. If you have any difficulty hearing the speaker, contact the AV technician to amplify the sound until it can be heard by all. And, "Can you move up front? " is not an acceptable solution. 

Stay in Your Zone. When moving across a room, if you walk too close to the speakers, it will set off ear piercing feedback. Practice walking during a rehearsal with a live microphone to test your walking space.

Know Your Microphones. The type of microphone you use will present different challenges.

Attached. Many lecterns have a microphone built in. This is the least desirable model because it requires you to stay glued behind it. When using an attached mic, position it so it’s close enough to your mouth to pick up sound but not so close that you’re swallowing it. You shouldn’t have to lean in to talk. Keep your head up and speak directly to the crowd. And be careful not to turn your head. One speaker I know turned his head each time he projected a new slide. When he turned to look at the screen, people in the audience couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Handheld. Some presenters prefer a handheld microphone. It gives them something to do with their hands. You’ll need to practice holding this kind of microphone the right distance from your mouth. If it’s too close, you’ll get extra plosion when pronouncing “p” and “b” words. One way to minimize these sound effects is to request a windscreen. A windscreen is a spongy net-like covering for the head of the mic. For men with beards, don't touch the mic to your chin or you'll hear a scratchy sound. If it’s too far away, it won’t pick up your voice. Don't hold the microphone against your chest. It will change the tone. Clasp it in the middle of your hand and hold it out from your body. Check to see that the switch is turned on. When you plan to have audience interaction, request an additional handheld microphone to pick up questions and comments from the audience.

Cordless. This is the microphone of choice. It’s compact, it clips onto your lapel, and the battery pack is placed in your back pocket or clipped to your waist. It’s lightweight so that you can forget about it, and you don’t have to worry about tripping over cords. One cautionary note to female presenters: Wear a suit with a jacket. There will be no place to attach the battery pack to a dress unless you have a belt. And a jacket will hide it from the audience should you suddenly pivot.

One other word of caution: if you’re going to take a break, be ever vigilant about turning off the mic. One woman forgot to turn it off when she went to the restroom. Talk about embarrassing moments! An advantage of the cordless is you can gesture with both hands. Be conscious of your gestures, If you pound your chest to make a point, it will sound like an explosion.

Rehearse with a Microphone. Don't wait until the day of your presentation. Practice with the microphone before your talk. Test the right distance for your voice. If you are soft-spoken, place the microphone closer to your mouth. If you are louder pull it further away so that you're not yelling. One speaker held the microphone at chest level but the volume was too soft. Finally, the speaker projected and said "I'm usually loud." She thought she had to soften her voice when using  a microphone. Be natural and project. And you'll never have to say, "Can you hear me now?"

For more speaking tips visit