Can You Hear Me Now?

I spoke once at a school in New York whose students were so misbehaved that the school hired guards to stand by during convocation programs.

The guards stood around the room, into which about a thousand students filed while I prepared to speak. The event host warned that an astronaut had spoken a couple of weeks earlier, and the students behaved so badly that he couldn’t finish his speech.

“Don’t expect great things here,” the host said.

When I saw the sound system he had provided I expected way less than great things. I expected a total disaster. Sitting on a table on the stage was a tiny Wollensak tape recorder with a tiny speaker – two, maybe three inches around – and an itty bitty mike attached to the ancient recorder by a four-foot cord.

This set up was suppose to bring decent sound to a thousand people who had booed an astronaut from the stage?

“I can’t do this,” I told the host.

“Yes,” he said. “You can. All you need to do is bend over when you talk into this mic.”

I threw my second and final hissy fit as a public speaker. Read about hissy fit number one here.

“I cannot do this until you get a sound system in here.”

“Can’t do it.” He said.

“Are you telling me there are no sound systems in this building?  Band room?  Chorus equipment?  Drama department?”

The event host found one. I spoke as planned. And the students’ response was profound. Why? Because we had quality sound. They could hear what I was saying.

Students don’t pay attention when they can’t hear.

I learned that day that sound is essential to the effectiveness of a communicator – that good sound requires enough power to cover the audience and enough quality to make it easy to understand the speaker.

Sound that has coverage reaches everybody in the room – if there’s coverage, everybody everywhere hears every word you say. Quality sound enhances and doesn’t distract – it isn’t tinny, it doesn’t cut out, and it doesn’t squeal with feedback every other word.

There are six ways to assure you will have adequate sound.

1. Arrange for an adequate sound system.

Event hosts will often try to convince you to use the venue’s house sound system. Before you agree, vet it: ask if they would let a live band use the system. If not, consider it the host’s admission that the system is inadequate, and arrange for a better one.

2. Bring your own mic.

What happens when your preference is a headset mic but the emcee hands you a handheld wireless? If you’re given a mic that you don’t like, your discomfort with it will show. The only way to guarantee that you’ll get a mic you like is to bring your own.

By the way, I refuse to use a headset that is not my own (prima donna) so I bring my own. Click here for my headset recommendation.

3. Conduct a sound check.

Where you stand, how you hold a mic, the system’s volume all affect how you’ll sound on stage. Testing it in advance provides you and your techs with the chance to catch feedback or other flaws and to adjust so they won’t happen in front of an audience.

4. Replace the mic’s batteries.

A mic that cuts out or dies doesn’t provide quality sound. But a mic with fresh batteries doesn’t cut out or die. Request a new set for your speech.

5. Know whether the mic’s on.

Right before you speak, ask the host to confirm: is the mic on, or do I need to turn it on? The first few moments of a speech set the tone for the entire performance. Those words may be lost if you don’t know if the mic is on.

6. Eat the mic.

Not because microphones are delicious, but because achieving the highest quality sound out of a handheld mic requires your lips to touch the windscreen. The closer your mouth is to the windscreen, the louder, the fuller, the more dynamic the sound.

Almost any difficult communication situation can be overcome if you have good lights and sound. Help your host assure a successful event by encouraging them to provide the best of both.

Have you every had to speak with an insufficient sound system? 

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