32 Using a Microphone Effectively: Turn It Off Before Going to the Bathroom

Lynn Meade

Speaker standing behind a microphone

“Testing, check, check, can you hear me?” Your first impression matters and you don’t want your first impression to be a microphone check. The most important part of your speech is the sound–if they can’t hear you, what’s the point? Learn to project your voice when speaking in smaller venues and learn to use a microphone when speaking in larger ones.

In this chapter, I will talk about general principles of good microphone management as opposed to details on how to use a specific microphone.

Test Your Microphone

  • You should never have to ask, “Can everyone hear me” during your speech, you should do that when you check out the room and venue.
  • Test out the volume for the microphone, don’t yell.
  • Have a sound spotter who will tell you if there are volume issues.

Microphone Test Phrases


Microphone and empty speaking venue

The Harvard sentences are short sentences used during World War II to test out communications systems used by the military. These sentences were designed to be balanced phonetically and to incorporate different sounds of speech.

You can use these sentences as part of your microphone check.

  1. A king ruled the state in the early days.
  2. The ship was torn apart on the sharp reef.
  3. Sickness kept him home the third week.
  4. The wide road shimmered in the hot sun.
  5. The lazy cow lay in the cool grass.
  6. Lift the square stone over the fence.
  7. The rope will bind the seven books at once.
  8. Hop over the fence and plunge in.
  9. The friendly gang left the drug store.
  10. Mesh wire keeps chicks inside.

For the complete list of 72 groupings of ten sentences, go to Harvard Sentences


Understand Your Microphone

  • Know how to turn it on and off.
  • Know how to mute it.
  • Know how to put it on the stand, clip it, hold it.
  • Know how to attach it if it is a clip-on/lavalier.

Hand-Held Microphones

  • Do not hide your face with the microphone.
  • Practice holding it so you know where the “sweet spot” is and where the “dead spot” might be.
  • If someone asks you a question, either give them the microphone or repeat the question.

 Podium Microphones

  • Podium mics are sensitive enough to pick up your voice so you do not need to slouch to lean into the microphone.
  • Test how far you can get away from the microphone for it to pick up your voice.
  • Stay in place. If you walk away, they won’t be able to hear you.

Microphones can be Tricky


Wearable Lavalier Microphone

  • Clip it on 4-6 inches from your mouth.
  • Do not wear jewelry that will bang against the microphone (dangly earrings, bulky necklaces).
  • Do not let your hair get tangled in the microphone or make noises.
  • Do not put it on a floppy jacket.
  • Wear clothing that you can easily clip on a microphone.

Computer Microphones

  • Test your equipment with a friend.
  • Beware of ambient noises –birds, lawnmowers, dishwashers.
  • Record your voice on the computer’s microphone so you know what you sound like.
  • Know the location of the computer microphone. (I accidentally covered mine with a sticky note and then couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t hear me.)

A Few Other Microphone Tips

  • It is about people hearing your speech, if given the option, use a microphone.
  • Cough away from the microphone.
  • Avoid screaming into the microphone or making loud sounds.
  • If you go to the bathroom and you have on a wireless microphone, make sure it is muted. I mean it–this is very important!
  • Be sure to mute or turn off your microphone as soon as you are done speaking.

For a great overview of microphone usage as well as some helpful visuals, watch this short video.

A good speech, but notice how he unnecessarily bends to use the microphone.

Just for fun. Watch as everyone tries to keep it business as usual when the Texas mayor leaves his microphone on during a bathroom break.


Key Takeaways

Remember This!

  • Test your microphone in advance.
  • Test your microphone in advance.
  • Test your microphone in advance.


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Anim, M. (2011). Picture of Irish Sinn Fein Senator Kathryn Reilly, speaking at a commemoration. Wikimedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kathryn_Reilly.jpg

Dahl, C. (2015). Best HS graduation speech ever! Weber high graduation 2015. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRiV4KZBoIY  Standard YouTube License.

Harvard sentences. http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~hgs/audio/harvard.html

New York News (2015). Texas mayor leaves mic on during bathroom break. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kafVFxP3uaQ Standard Youtube License.

Reed, G. (2017). Microphone test phrases every presenter should know. Ethos 3. https://ethos3.com/2017/03/microphone-test-phrases-every-presenter-should-know/

TMikaelsonJ2 (2019). Jared—6/20/19— 2019- 2020 National Speech and Debate Education Day Spokesperson and Duo Judge. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwq1McgGDfg Standard YouTube License.

Toastmasters. (2018). Toastmasters tips- The proper way to use a microphone. [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twuRPGDDD5I Standard Youtube License.

Zhang, S. (2015). The “Harvard Sentences” secretly shaped the development of audio tech. https://gizmodo.com/the-harvard-sentences-secretly-shaped-the-development-1689793568

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Advanced Public Speaking Copyright © 2021 by Lynn Meade is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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