Public Speaking – A Primer on Using a Microphone

If you’ve ever been in an audience where you had difficulty hearing or understanding a speaker, you know the frustration that occurs when a speaker doesn’t use a microphone properly.

The size of the audience that you need a microphone for varies depending on the speaker. Some speakers’ voices are strong and might carry in a room of a hundred people. Others are so soft-spoken, that their voices might not be adequate for more than about ten. For most speakers, a mike probably isn’t necessary for less than 30 audience members, but would probably be required for a group over 50. Only you know where the line is for you.

But if you are going to use one, there are some helpful tips for the effective use of different types of mikes.


A lavaliere (or lapel mike) is a battery-operated microphone that clips to your lapel or collar and has a wire that runs to the cell-phone-sized transmitter, which you attach to your waistband. This system allows you freedom of movement – you don’t have to be tied to a lectern or inconvenienced by holding a handheld mike.

Always ask for a lavaliere mike. Some facilities may not automatically provide them – they are often an extra expense – so that’s why you should ask. It’s unlikely you’ll be refused. If you want to have an engaging presence and be able to project your full dynamism, you need the freedom of movement that a lavaliere provides.

Try to wear the transmitter in an unobtrusive location. The best place is clipped to your waistband against your back. Then you can wear a jacket or untucked sweater or top that will hide it. Before fastening the mike onto your lapel, run the wire up underneath your jacket or shirt so it’s not visible.

Dress accordingly. This is easy for men, who wear pants with a waistband for attaching the transmitter and have some kind of jacket lapel or shirt collar onto which to fasten the mike. But women’s fashions aren’t always conducive to wearing a lavaliere. A dress with no waistline means no place to secure the transmitter. A top without a collar or lapel will require the microphone to be fastened on the neck opening. This may cause the mike to rub against the neck or collarbone, which not only might be uncomfortable but could also create some sound problems. So women need to give particular thought to what they’re going to wear when speaking with a lavaliere.

Always perform a sound check before your presentation. This will give you an idea of how you’re projecting and if you need to clip the mike closer to or farther away from your face.

Make sure you know how to turn the transmitter on and off. If you’re wearing it before and after your talk, you don’t want it on where it will catch any of your off-stage conversations or, heaven forbid, your trip to the restroom.


If a lapel mike isn’t available, then a handheld one is the next best choice. Although you would have to hold it, you would still have that freedom of movement so important to your dynamism.

Request a cordless mike. That way, you don’t have to worry about the cord, which can be distracting.

Hold it roughly two to four inches from your mouth. Any farther away and you might not be heard; any closer and you could be over-amplified and get distracting feedback.

Always make sure the mike follows your head movements. If you turn your head to the side, move the microphone, too, so that it’s always in front of your mouth.

Conduct a sound check ahead of time so that you know how close is too close and how far is too far away.

If the mike is cordless, know how to turn it on and off so it doesn’t pick up extraneous conversation (and doesn’t wear the battery down).


Lectern, or stationary, microphones are attached to a lectern, usually with a long, adjustable neck. This set-up requires the speaker to stand behind the lectern while addressing the audience.

Speak two to four inches from the mike. This will require you to adjust the angle of the mike and your position so your mouth is the right distance.

Do a sound check ahead of time. Mikes are different quality and have vastly different ranges. A sound check will let you know the range of that mike – then you have to remember to stay within that range.

You want, of course, to make good eye contact around the room. But don’t turn your head from side to side. This will mean that your mouth will not always be directly in line with the mike. Instead, learn to angle your whole body subtly from side to side so that at all times the microphone is lined up with your mouth.

Oh, and have I said, do a sound check? Always.

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Barbara Busey, president of the training firm Presentation Dynamics, has been a professional speaker, trainer and author since 1990. She does training and speaking on the “dynamics” of how people “present” themselves, is the author of the award-winning book, “Stand Out When You Stand Up,” and is the creator of The Compelling Speaker, a unique presentation skills training program that combines advance audio CD instruction with a hands-on, ultra participative workshop. Sign up for her newsletter, Stand Out Strategies, on her web site: and receive a gift of her “Top Ten Stand Out Tips.”

She now offers a Certification program, a three-day intensive workshop that certifies people in how to make a living offering the Compelling Speaker training. Go to to learn more about this unique business opportunity and sign up for the special report, “Do You Have What it Takes to Run Your Own Training Business?”

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