[This post is part of our Public Speaking in the Church Series]
As a speaker, microphones can be your best friend or your worst enemy. There are few things in your delivery that are more important to your audience than a clear sound, and few things that annoy them more than sound issues. A lot of those can be avoided by learning how to use a microphone well.
Using a microphone is not rocket science, but it does take a little more effort than picking the mic up, tapping on it, and saying test-one-two-three. As a matter of fact, let’s get this one thing out of the way right now: mics are not meant to be tapped. Ever.
Do Your Research
If you’re speaking in a church or church setting for the first time, do a little research into the type of mic you’ll be using. This is important for several reasons. The first is that you’ll need to adapt what you wear for instance. If I know I’ll be wearing a headset, I have a battery pack I need to put somewhere where it won’t draw too much attention. In that case, wearing something with front or back pockets is smart—not always a given as a woman, since a lot of ‘dressy’ women’s clothes don’t have pockets.
Another wardrobe adjustment may be necessary if you’re wearing a lapel/lavaliere microphone (one that’s clipped to your jacket or tie). You’ll need to make sure you’re wearing something it can be clipped to and that nothing brushes against the mic when you move.
Another reason is that you may need to adjust your delivery. Giving a talk with a handheld is different, because you only have one hand to make gestures with. It’s doable, but if you’re not used to it, you may want to practice. If you don’t, you may come across as stiff or awkward, as you unconsciously will try to move the hand that holds the mic. The same is true for speaking with a mic on a lectern, which constricts your movements.
If you don’t have a lot of experience speaking with a mic, practice is a good idea. The sound team will appreciate you coming in early anyways (but make sure to clear it with them, as they may be practicing with the worship band as well) because they’ll need to test your sound and get the settings right. For you, it’s an opportunity to get used to speaking with a mic. Ask the sound people for specific feedback, for instance on whether you need to hold the mic closer, or further away, etc.
One thing you’ll definitely want to get handy in, is turning the mic on and off. Every set has a different system and every sound person does it differently as well. Some will have your mic on, but on mute the entire time, others will want to save batteries and have you turn in on manually as you start speaking. Make sure you know whether you’re on or off (also because when you’re on, even if you’re muted on the speakers, the sound people will still be able to hear you!) and what you need to do to be ‘on’ once you start talking.
Microphones are meant to enhance the volume of your voice. That sounds like a given, but a rookie mistake speakers can make is shouting into a mic. You don’t need to—unless it’s for dynamic and dramatic purposes—because the sound engineer will crank your levels up to the right volume. So speak normal.
With most mics, closer is better. The adjustable mini-mics on headsets are usually meant to be worn close to the skin, almost rubbing against it. With handheld mics, the best way to hold them is below and close to your mouth. Some people even let them rest against their chin, but that’s only an option if it doesn’t rub audibly. Ask the sound people for advice, if needed. Depending on the type of mic, they may have additional tips.
The exception to the closer-is-better rule are lapel mics. These should be placed about 10 inches under the chin and in the center. The right placement is crucial here, because otherwise the sound will distort when you move your head to the left or right.
Whatever you do, always speak into the microphone. One mistake speakers make, is that they put down the mic for whatever reason, thinking the audience won’t mind for a minute. The people in the front may not, but the others will. Also, always keep in mind that people who are deaf or heard of hearing may have their hearing aids tuned to the sound system in a specific section of the church. If you stop using the mic, they won’t be able to hear a thing.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s cover some random practical issues:
- Take off your mic when you need to use the bathroom. Really, there’s so much that could go wrong here that I don’t even know where to start. Enough said.
- If you’re ever speaking when you have a cold or are coughing, agree on a signal with the sound person so you can warn him before you cough. Your audience will appreciate you for it—and the tech team as well.
- When something goes wrong with your microphone, don’t panic. Stay calm and look to the sound people for directions. Don’t just grab the closest handheld or keep talking without a mic (see before), but wait for them to tell you what to do. Many speakers worry about the audience at times like that and want to fix it as soon as possible. Well, so does the sound team and they know what they’re doing, so trust them. The audience will understand that nobody wanted that to happen, so they’ll have some patience.
- Be careful with the equipment, especially the connections and wires. They’re fragile and expensive, so handle with care.
- Listen to yourself on an audio recording. You can learn tons from your microphone use by analyzing your own sound on a recording.
- One last thing: always remember that #micdropped is usually not a literal thing. The audience, nor the sound people will appreciate this, just saying.