The next time you're ready to deliver a presentation, don't let nitty-gritty audio problems make you even more nervous before stepping up to the mike. You don't want to start the presentation with "Can you hear me now?"
Set the stage to set off on the right note, by answering these questions:
- Do I need a microphone? Maybe, maybe not. Don't feel you need to use one just because it's available. Even the best microphone can restrict your movement and take attention away from you.
One exception: If other presenters use the microphone, you should too, because the audience will be accustomed to that volume.
If your presentation is short and your audience is fewer than 40 people, your voice alone should be adequate. If possible, check the acoustics in advance. Bring a co-worker beforehand and have her sit in various spots throughout the room while you practice your address.
Even if you don't plan on using a microphone, have one available in case of noise from the next room. If you do use a microphone, ask for a second one in case the first one fails.
- What kind will I use? If you have a choice, keep these restrictions in mind:
Handheld and mounted microphones limit movements the most. If you're using a handheld, don't keep tossing it from hand to hand, distracting the audience. Also ensure your gesturing doesn't move it out of range. If the mike is mounted on a stand, don't reveal your anxiety by gripping the stand.
Lavaliere microphones, which usually attach to your clothing with a clip, offer more mobility, particularly if they are wireless. To avoid embarrassment, turn it off before you leave the platform or when you stop addressing the group.
Headset microphones give you the greatest freedom to move, but they can be distracting to the audience and will partially block your face.
- Have I tested it? Always check the microphone by speaking into it, not tapping or blowing on it, and make adjustments before your presentation.
For a handheld or mounted microphone, position the mike slightly below your mouth and a few inches away to avoid a popping sound when you make "p," "t" and "d" sounds.
Keeping Murphy's law in mind, it's also a good idea to have a few one-liners ready to ease the tension in case the microphone fails or you encounter another problem.
For example, Lilly Walters, author of What to Say When ... You're Dying on the Platform, suggests that when howling feedback from the microphone interrupts you, say: "If you think that was annoying, wait until you hear my speech!"
The most unnerving thing about presentations is that you can go in with winning ideas and still come out a flop – a very public flop.
What's really scary is that you can often do a slow-motion flop where every minute you're up there feels like an eternity. Your audience fidgets, your voice squeaks, you stumble over material ... and your fabulous message fizzles.
Fact is, though, you never have to risk any of that. EVER. Instead, you can walk into every presentation – big or small – absolutely confident you'll be a hit.
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