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How to Use a Microphone Effectively
by Chris King

Up until 1907 when Dr. Lee DeForest invented the microphone, speakers had to “project” or actually shout to be heard. The microphone, along with amplifiers, speakers, and other attached equipment, changed the whole tenor of performance. But, not all microphones are created equal, and not all storytellers know how to use a microphone effectively. This article will share tips on how to use a microphone to your advantage when telling stories.

Use the microphone when it is available. It is surprising to me when a storyteller opts to ignore the microphone. I’ve experienced tellers who say, “I have a loud voice” and because they don’t know how to use a microphone, choose to tell without it. It is to our and our listeners’ advantage to request the presence of a mike and then make use of it. Without a microphone, a storyteller can’t vary his or her voice quality sufficiently to achieve the personal, conversational tone that is both friendly and persuasive. With a good microphone, used properly, you can speak softly and personably, and then emphasize your climaxes with more force. The variations are limitless.

Not all microphones are created equal. There are different types of mikes. There is the microphone that is attached and wired to a lectern. This is my least favorite, for it keeps you in a formal position behind the lectern and creates a barrier between you and the audience. Some of these mikes can be lifted out of the holder, however, and then used as a hand held mike. The advantage here is that often you have more control over the sound created with a handheld mike than others, but the disadvantages are that it is usually on a cord, so you must be cautious not to trip; and, if you use props or an instrument as part of your storytelling, you will have only one hand free since the other is holding the mike. There are stationary mikes with an excellent reception range that help the situation if you want to use props, instruments, and move somewhat. If, however, you prefer to move around a great deal and even down through the audience and/or use both hands, you will probably enjoy using a lavaliere microphone — preferably a wireless one — that attaches with a clip to your lapel. The wireless mikes have a holder for batteries that you clip to your belt or waistband, or place in a pocket, so dress accordingly.

Check the microphone ahead of time. As I have mentioned in other articles, it is important to arrive early for every performance, so you have time to check the room setup and the equipment. And, of course, the microphone is part of that equipment. Hopefully, there will be a technician, custodian, or someone who sets up and/or operates the public address system who can help you test the microphone. If not, ask some audience members placed in different areas of the room to give you feedback on how you sound. To test the mike, never tap or blow into it. Both are hard on the equipment and signs of an amateur. Say something friendly and conversational like, “Good afternoon. Am I being heard clearly?” Most people will be happy to help. It is wise to check both sides of the room and moving to both sides of the platform or stage. Also you can find out with a stationary mike how far away you can be and still be heard. Try speaking both loudly and softly to get a feel for the balance.

Practice raising and lowering the microphone. Even if you think any ninny should be able to do this, not all microphones on a stand are set up the same way. Some mike stands have buttons, others need to be twisted, and some just need a lot of strength to be moved. In many situations, you will have to readjust the height to suit you, so the more familiar you are with the procedure, the less fumbling and more confidence you will exude.

Know how to turn the microphone on and off. If the sound system starts acting up by distorting, squealing, producing a lot of static, howling, clicking, cutting-in-and-out, going from loud to soft — this can happen more often than you can imagine — you must turn it off immediately. If you suddenly start coughing or sneezing, either turn off the mike or step away from it. Also, many performers have experienced the nightmare of not turning off the mike during a break and saying something confidential or visiting the bathroom. Know that everyone will hear you with clarity if the mike is “live.”

Purchase a high quality microphone for your own use. If you give numerous performances, it is wise to have your own quality microphone. There will be times when you won’t need it, but if you carry the proper equipment for plugging into another system, you will always be assured of knowing your microphone and being comfortable while telling. There are great wireless setups now with an incredible amount of power that you can use outside for festivals and bonfires. The only times I wouldn’t use my own microphone are when there is a professional sound technician available. They usually take great pride in their work and also know what they are doing.

Remember, the microphone is your friend! It can only enhance your storytelling when you use it properly.


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