A Basic Guide to Mics and Mic Techniques for Presenters

A Basic Guide to Mics and Mic Techniques for Presenters

Chris Lyons | October 31, 2019

As a presenter, your goal is to inform, excite, and engage your audience. But often, audio issues can be a problem.  Sound levels that are too low or too variable, the presence of cable and clothing noise, or just poor overall sound quality can quickly distract your audience.

The type of microphone you use – and how well you use it – is important to how you sound. It's a key part of your presentation, just like your laptop, your slide design and your materials. You wouldn't think of showing up for a presentation with a new laptop that you've never used before. You wouldn't present a slide show that you haven't been able to review. And you wouldn't present information that you weren't confident in. Since you probably won't know in advance what type of microphone will be provided, you need to be comfortable with each of the main types.

Here's a quick overview of the basic types:

Using a Podium Mic

Many presentation rooms are equipped with a flexible gooseneck microphone mounted on a podium or lectern.

There are two things that every presenter must do when speaking from a podium. First, adjust the microphone to the appropriate height and angle. You want it to aim it at your head, and not at your chest or shoulder. If the person who spoke before you is significantly taller or shorter, the mic will not be positioned properly for you, so the sound level will be lower and may be muffled. Second, stay in front of the mic. Don't stand next to the podium or walk over to point at the screen or white board. If you do, the audience may not hear you.

Using a Lavalier Mic

Probably the most common mic for presenters is the wireless lavalier. A wireless lavalier is convenient because your hands are free to point or gesture and you can move around without sacrificing sound quality. 

This miniature mic clips on to your shirt, jacket, or dress, and the wireless transmitter clips on your belt or goes into a pocket. For clear sound, the mic should be clipped at about breast pocket level. If it's up too high, the shadow effect of your chin can make you sound muffled; if it's too low, your level will be too quiet, and you'll lose the audience's attention. Also be sure to avoid long necklaces should avoid long necklaces that can make noise or bump into the mic. 

Also, never forget before and after your presentation to turn the mic off to avoid side conversations or other things you do not want to broadcast to the audience.

Using a Headworn Mic

In large rooms with a big audience, a lavalier mic sometimes just can't be turned up loud enough without encountering feedback. The solution is a headworn mic with a thin boom that puts the mic element just off to one side of your mouth. Because the mic is closer to the sound source (your mouth), there is less risk of feedback. 

Make sure that the mic isn't directly in front of your mouth or below your nose, where it may pick up breathing noises that are distracting. If possible, do a sound check to ensure everything is working smoothly.

Using a Handheld Mic

A handheld wireless mic gives you more control over your sound, but requires more discipline. If you're a dynamic speaker, you can move the mic closer to your mouth and drop your speaking level for a more intimate sound. If you need to shout for emphasis, you can move the mic a few inches farther away to avoid blasting the first row out of their seats. 

Handheld mics also have a more robust "rock and roll" sound that many presenters like. For consistent sound, learn to keep the head of the mic centered at about breast pocket level, speak into the mic and don't wave it around or let it drift downward as you speak.

Finally, here are some pro tips that even occasional presenters can benefit from.

  • RECORD YOURSELF. You'll hear things you didn't expect, and learn which mics and placements work well for your voice and presentation style.
  • IF THERE'S A SOUND ENGINEER OR AV TECHNICIAN, CHECK IN. Find out what type of mic you'll be using, and don't hesitate to request a specific type if that suits you better. Most sound engineers appreciate presenters who think about how they sound.
  • WALK AROUND THE ROOM USING THE MIC. If you're using a wireless handheld or lavalier mic, make sure the audio sounds good wherever you are and that your movements (for instance, breathing, or the rustling of clothing), aren't picked up by the microphone. And don't forget the people in the back row – they need to hear you, too.

Your goal is to deliver clear, intelligible audio that lets your message shine through. If people notice the sound, there's probably something wrong with it. Get comfortable with these four common types of presentation microphones and you'll be ready to sound extraordinary every time.

Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is a 30-year Shure veteran who has filled a variety of different marketing and public relations roles. His specialty is making complicated audio technology easy to understand, usually with an analogy that involves cars or food. He doesn't sing or play an instrument, but he does make Shure Associates laugh once in a while.