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The mic trick

Published on: 2021-06-13

I'm not a public speaking guru, but I'm no stranger to giving a presentation or hosting a Star Trek themed pub quiz. There's a way to hold a microphone that I find particularly useful, but I've never heard anyone discuss / recommend it before. Might be that I don't pay enough attention on those public speaking prep classes, but it might be that this is a genuinely useful little trick worth sharing.

I've stolen the trick over a decade ago from my friend Mario, who I look up to for this type of things. He was hosting a local Sci-Fi convention at the time, and hist stage presence was top notch, master of ceremonies and all that.

The trick

When using any kind of microphone you generally want it to stay in the same relative position to your mouth. That ensures the volume stays consistent. And you also want to remain animated. Staying perfectly still will ensure mic is in the same place, but will also make you look all robotic and stiff. If that's not a look you are going for, keep reading!

This applies to hand held microphones (🎀️). I've never used the ones mounted on a stand or a podium (πŸŽ™οΈ), so don't have advice on those. And if your mic is clipped to your shirt, or worn as a headset (🎧️) than you are covered and have nothing to worry about.

Step 1. πŸ–οΈ

If you can do hold the mic in your non-dominant hand (for me that's my left hand). The idea here is to free your dominant hand for performing other more sensitive tasks such as using a computer mouse or a track-pad, should you need to.

Step 2. πŸ‘„οΈ

Hold up the mic and find the right distance from it to your mouth. You can do this by just speaking in your normal voice and checking if the mic picked it up. If you have a sound technician on hand they can help with this. Sometimes you'll need to keep the mic real close, even touching your chin. This can be a bit problematic if you are sporting a beard, as hairs might get stuck in the mic's metal mesh. In this case you may want to ask the technician to up the volume a bit, allowing you to hold the mic a bit farther away.

Step 3. πŸ’ͺ️

Having the mic at the right distance from your mouth, you now want to stiffen your neck and the arm holding the mic, including the shoulder and the wrist. This is the core of the trick. By holding your neck and arm stiff you'll always keep the mic on the same distance and your volume will be consistent. Critically, this will prevent you from turning your head or waving around with your mic hand.

Step 4. πŸ•ΊοΈ

What you do get to move is your waist. You turn from the waist, you look up and down from the waist. This will give you enough freedom of movement to face any part of the audience. It will also allow you to face both your slides, which are typically behind you, and your audience in the auditorium. This step may take a little bit of practice, as we don't usually turn from our waists. But it's what makes the trick work.

In addition to the waist you have your dominant hand. Use it to articulate, point to stuff etc. You've left it free for a reason. Also, you can move around on your feet. Don't stroll around like a caged tiger, but feel free to shuffle a bit.

That's it

And that's it. Stiffen your neck and arm, turn from the waist. One far more important ting I learned from Mario was that all these tips and tricks, helpful as they may be, won't do anything without good content. So think about what you want to say, prepare your talk, work on your pub quiz. And when the time comes and you grasp the mic I hope this trick helps you to focus on the message you want to get across, and not worry about the volume.

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