Here’s the thing about a microphone: There’s a right way and a wrong way to use it. For the most part, it’s a simple enough piece of equipment: A small unit that converts sound into an electric signal so that it can be amplified. But it is a piece of equipment—and like all equipment, you need to practice your presentation with it, and you need to have a back-up plan if it fails on you.

So let’s start with the basics. What is a microphone and why should you use one?

A microphone is a tool that amplifies your voice. You don’t need to speak louder or softer when you use a mic; your normal conversational tone is just fine.  You do, however, need to have good vocal expression. A microphone isn’t a magic wand that will bring your boring tone of voice to life—it will just make it louder. So whether you’re using a microphone or not, maintain good vocal expression in order to engage your audience.

Microphone Types

There are several types of microphones—each of which have their limitations, so choose carefully. A lectern microphone, for example, frees up your hands, but your ability to connect with your audience is limited because you can’t stray from where the microphone is affixed. For this reason, a handheld mic is probably a better choice, but it also requires some special handling and knowledge on how to speak into it properly. A lavalier (lapel) wireless microphone is discreet, but you also need to know about proper placement to get the most out of it.

With a lectern or handheld microphone, you need to be conscious of how you are speaking into it. Obviously, you should point the microphone at your mouth, since it’s your voice you want to amplify, but you don’t need the microphone any closer than eight to 10 inches. If you position yourself any closer, you’ll restrict your movement, plus the microphone will distort your posture and your voice; stand too far away or turn your head, and no one will hear you.

In the case of a hand-held microphone, remember that a microphone is designed to capture a voice that flows over or across it, so don’t hold the ball too close to your mouth. Crowding the mic will amplify every breath and also create annoying feedback. Instead, point the mic toward your nose. You could also rest the ball of the mic on your chin.

If you’re using a lavalier wireless microphone, remember that it should be positioned as close to the center of your body as possible and about 8 inches below your chin. Make sure your clothing won’t move across the microphone (which will emit scratching noises). Have a handheld mic available nearby in the event the wireless mic fails.

Always be prepared

Never leave anything to chance. If you’re going to be using a microphone for your presentation, you need to practice with a microphone. Ideally, you want to practice with the equipment you’ll be using in the space you’ll be speaking. That’s not always possible—but at the very least, practice with whatever type of microphone you’ll be using. Here are some other tips:

Do a sound check. You may be tempted to skip this step, but it’s an important one. Don’t expect that the person who set up the microphone has done a sound check—do it yourself. Make sure the microphone works and is set to the correct level for you.

Find a practice audience. Ask someone to move around the room and provide you with feedback on the sound volume and quality.

Know how the microphone works. Be familiar with where the on/off switch is and how to put the microphone in standby or mute mode. Make sure the mic is turned on before you speak and off as soon as you finish.

Stand with good posture. A microphone is no substitute for proper speaking technique. Remember that a microphone amplifies what is coming out of your mouth. When you slouch, your voice gets pulled down—and the microphone will amplify it. Stand up straight and align your head with your spine.

Know Your Stuff

A microphone is an important piece of equipment—one you should be familiar with if you’re planning on giving a presentation, and particularly if you’ll be speaking to a large group. And like every other aspects of public speaking, how to properly use a microphone is a learned skill.

For other helpful presentation tips, visit the Resources section over at Effective Presentations (our parent company site), or give us a call at 1-800-403-5206 to learn more about the public speaking training we offer across the country.