Mastering the Mic

Learn the basics for using a microphone as effectively as possible

We so often focus on union communications as being written: through newsletters, emails or social media feeds, official and unofficial union communications news usually comes via text. But speaking to one another is the most important form of communications that we use. Union members need to be comfortable when speaking through a microphone to be as effective and as persuasive as they can be.

When you think of microphones, you most likely think of conventions. Large gatherings demand that people speak into something that will project their voice. But even at smaller meetings, using a microphone might be important to ensure that others can hear you, or to have your words translated into another language.

Regardless of why you’re speaking into a microphone, it’s important to know some tricks and tips for making your intervention as impactful as possible. Follow these steps and you’ll be delivering barn burners in no time!

Step one: Prepare yourself
Speaking at a microphone without notes is like diving without a parachute: there are only some people who are capable enough to hit the landing net! With practice, the need to rely on notes will diminish, but solid preparation is the key to a reasoned and powerful speech. Whether you write your speech out in point form, or you read from a paper, prepare yourself such that you feel comfortable with the intervention you’re about to make. That way, when you’re talking, you’ll spend less time thinking about what needs to come next, which will make your comments flow easier and be more listenable.

Step two: Calm yourself
Yes, being calm is rarely easy when you step up to a mic, but it’s important to do what you can to steady yourself and get ready to speak. Having a ritual can help: take deep breaths and follow these steps every time you make a comment at a microphone. You’ll find yourself going through the motions without needing to think about it.

Step three: Position yourself
Where you want to be in relation to a microphone depends on how well the mic is working. Generally, you never want to touch it with your mouth. You should start two inches away from the mic and then move closer or further based on what you hear from the speakers, or how people react to the sound you produce. You can also give a gentle blow to see if it’s on, and start with a simple salutation to gauge if you should continue. Stay about two inches from the mic to speak, or wherever you need to be to get a good sound from it, for the duration of the talk. Do your best to not move too close or to far from the mic as you talk.

If a mic isn’t on, or if it requires an adjustment, determine what you need to do. There will normally be technicians in the room who can help you, so relax and wait for help if the problem is out of your hands. Never point a mic towards the speaker that the sound is coming out of. Most mics have on/off buttons either on the side or the bottom: only switch them on if it’s clear that they are off.

And, never tap a mic. If your meeting has translators or other staff and participants who are listening through a headset, hearing someone tap a microphone to see if it’s working feels like being punched in the brain. A gentle blow or saying something short is all you need to see if a mic is on.

Step four: Identify yourself
Always identify yourself when you start to speak. Whether you say your name, your local, or you greet the audience in your mother tongue, the process of identifying yourself has two purposes. The first is obvious: letting people know who you are will help make your argument more clear. Regardless of how your identification fits into your argument, starting off by saying who you are gives your audience more information to mentally catalogue your intervention, thereby making it more impactful.

The second reason to identify yourself is because what your intervention can do for yourself. Having a sentence that you can unthinkingly rattle off gives your brain the breathing room to get ready for the substantive part of your intervention. If you use this opportunity as a kind of mic check, you’ll find that by speaking your name, you can position yourself over the mic, you can hear how good you sound over the speakers and you can see if the mic is even working or not. If you launch into your argument before you’ve done a basic check, you might become flustered if the mic isn’t working, or if no one can hear you because you haven’t tested your positioning in advance.

Step five: Speak and listen to yourself
Listening to yourself can be hard, and it requires practice to separate your internal dialogue and voice with what you hear being amplified elsewhere in a room. But with practice, you can get used to knowing what you’re supposed to sound like for others to hear you well. While listening to yourself you can fix any problems with your positioning and help ensure that your argument isn’t buried by bad sound.

In general:

Ask someone to give you feedback – we can always improve so asking a friend or colleague for overall feedback is critical. If you say “umm” too often, or if there’s a word that you use as you collect your thoughts, it will be invisible to you. Seek the advice and feedback of people who heard you and think about ways to improve your speech the next time.

Learn microphone basics so that you know where to look if the mic isn’t on or isn’t plugged in. A mic problem has the ability to derail what you’re trying to say, so knowing where to point the mic if there’s feedback, knowing how to turn a mic on, ensure it’s plugged in, or know if the batteries are dead can save you a headache. Bonus points for folks who learn their way around a soundboard!

Don’t just shout if it isn’t working! When you’re in a meeting where people are expected to use microphones, it can come across as aggressive or bizarre to all of a sudden hear someone yelling. Oftentimes, microphones aren’t there to simply amplify a voice. There might be delegates who are listening directly to the mic feed. If there are delegates who are using translation, they must hear through a headset, which means you must speak through a mic. And, if a meeting is being recorded for minutes, you need to use the mic.

And, don’t forget: speak passionately and forcefully, and slower than you think you need to.

Do you have any of your own ideas for how to use a mic effectively? Get in touch with CALM’s editor at