Monday, July 30, 2007

Can they hear you?

Have you ever noticed how politicians and other speakers remain locked in an earlier era – the one before amplified sound was invented? They deliver every statement at full volume, emphasizing every word, so that in the end they emphasize nothing.

At the other extreme are speakers who assume the presence of a microphone automatically means they'll be heard by everyone. Maybe, maybe not.

Amplified sound enables us to speak in a more conversational tone and establish a more personal connection with individual members in the audience but only if properly used, which means –

Get close to the microphone!

Some venues equip speakers with clip-on mics positioned a few inches below the mouth, but most rely on podium mics. Depending on the size of the podium (too high, too low, too deep) and the size of the speaker (too short, too tall), the message a speaker has worked so hard to craft may never reach the audience.

If possible conduct a test with your host ahead of time – although remember that as the room fills up those bodies will absorb some of the sound. If necessary, take the mic off its stand and hold it in your hand. Think “lounge singer.” Think “rap artist.” Think “bingo caller.”

Remember, even the best speakers can’t “tell ‘em” if the audience can’t “hear ‘em.”


As technology advances, we’re beginning to rely more on sensors than our senses. Computers speak to us and listen to our replies. Robots navigate by sight and touch. There’s even one that dances to music! … But does it also get acne?


For more basics, see Writing for the Ear: a Primer in the left-hand column.

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