Five suggestions for better microphone use at seminars and conferences

Steve Lubetkin speaking at the NJBankers marketing conference. Notice how the lavalier microphone's wire is concealed under Steve's shirt.
Steve Lubetkin speaking at the NJBankers marketing conference. Notice how the lavalier microphone's wire is concealed under Steve's shirt.

I spent nearly 10 years organizing conferences for Standard & Poor’s, and I was fortunate to work with some very skilled meeting planners, from whom I learned a lot about making conferences go smoothly.

In an earlier post, I made some suggestions for how to improve your presentations at conferences. More recently, I’ve noticed a lot of issues regarding the proper use of microphones.

Here are five tips to improve the flow of your conferences by using microphones properly.

  1. Rent the lavalier microphones. Everyone wants to save a few bucks, and frankly, most of the conference venues are like bandits when it comes to what they charge for audio equipment and wi-fi access rentals. Nevertheless, include in your budget money to rent lavalier microphones for your panelists. It looks much more professional if your speakers don’t have to pass a handheld microphone back and forth among themselves, and the conversation can be more natural because they don’t have to wait to talk until the “baton” is passed to them.

    It also looks bush league to have a two-person interview between your moderator and a guest speaker where they are going back and forth with a handheld. Save the handheld for the on-camera standup interviews and for audience questions.If you can’t afford the confiscatory rental fees conference venues want to charge you, another way to get lavaliers is to buy your own kits and bring them to the conference, plug them into the sound system you rent from the conference venue.

    A third way (OK, hidden agenda) is to hire someone to record the event and ask them to provide them. It’s likely to be cheaper than renting from the venue.

  2. Manage the lavalier microphones correctly. Most speakers want to clip the mic to their lapel. The problem with this is that they always clip it to the lapel that they turn away from during the conversation. For men, clip the mic to the necktie directly under the knot, NOT halfway down the chest. If they are not wearing a tie, clip it on the shirt at about the level where a necktie knot would be if they were wearing one. For women, same location if possible.
  3. Rent the handheld mics too. You need to have handheld mics that your staff can bring to audience members who have questions. It is tedious and unnecessary to have speakers constantly repeating inaudible questions, hour after hour in an all day event. Again, it’s more expensive to rent from the venue, so consider getting your own or hiring an a/v person who does.
  4. Manage the handheld microphones correctly. Designate one or two staffers to hold the handheld mics and bring them to audience members who have questions. When the staffer identifies an audience member with a question they should move to that audience member and remain standing with the mic until the moderator is ready for a question. The staffer should use the microphone to say, “Jim, I have a question here to your right.” This helps the moderator who is having trouble seeing the audience or doesn’t know where the question is. Only then do you hand the mic to the questioner. Remain with them until they are finished, and then take the microphone from them. When you don’t have a questioner, hold the microphone up high so the audience can see you are looking for their eye. Staffers should not move off the floor to the side between questions, it is a waste of time. Just stay with the questioner until they finish. While they are speaking, scan the room looking for the next question in your area of the room, and when you get the mic back from the questioner, move quickly to the next person.
  5. Rent a “press box.” If you expect the press to cover your event, send them a welcoming signal by providing a “press box” or “mult box” for audio. This is a box that connects to the house sound system and provides multiple output jacks that media people can use simultaneously to record the audio from all those mics you rented. It’s essential if you have radio or TV broadcasters in the room, and extra nice if there are podcasters who want to record the event.

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