You're free from the podium, holding the microphone, and the spotlight is on you. Everyone can hear what you've got to say, or can they? If you've ever wondered how to hold a microphone properly, this article has the answer for you!
So how do we hold a microphone when public speaking and presenting? The best way to hold a microphone when speaking is at a distance of 2-10 inches from the mouth and at a 45-degree angle downward. Aim the capsule (front) of the microphone at the mouth and hold the microphone in the middle. For comfort, keep a medium grip, flexible wrist, and elbow down.
This is different from holding a microphone when singing. We need the microphone to sound as clear and natural as possible without distracting from the presentation. Let's discuss, in greater detail, the optimal way to hold a microphone when public speaking.
To learn about my recommended handheld microphones for public speaking, check out my article Best Handheld Microphones For Live Speaking.
In this article, I'll refer to the person speaking as the “presenter” rather than the speaker to avoid confusion with audio speakers/loudspeakers.
How To Hold A Microphone When Public Speaking And Presenting
When we are tasked with holding the microphone during a speech, we should do so in a way that effectively captures our voice but doesn't interfere with our interactions with the audience.
Holding the microphone 2-10 inches from the mouth and at a 45-degree angle downward from the mouth allows the audience to see our lips moving and doesn't interfere with eye contact. Holding the microphone effectively but out of the way like this ultimately makes for better communication!
Most vocal microphones you'll come across when presenting speeches are top-address and directional. Directional microphones are highly sensitive in the direction you point them. For this reason, it's important to point the capsule (the front) of the microphone toward your mouth.
To learn more about directional top-address mics, check out my articles A Complete Guide To Directional Microphones (With Pictures) and What Are Top, End & Side-Address Microphones? (+ Examples), respectively.
The Shure SM58 (pictured above) is a prevalent handheld mic choice for live speeches. The arrow in the picture represents the on-axis response of the SM58 (where the mic points and is most sensitive to sound).
The Shure SM58 is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
• Top 11 Best Dynamic Microphones On The Market
• Top 12 Best Microphones Under $150 For Recording Vocals
• Top 10 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals
• Top 20 Best Microphones For Podcasting (All Budgets)
Shure is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use
• Top Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
• Top Best Headphone Brands In The World
The most common directional pattern you'll find with live vocal microphones is the cardioid pattern. For an in-depth read on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
The front will have a grille at the opposite end of where the cable connects (if the mic is wired).
We've all seen a speaker holding a microphone straight up like an ice cream cone. Yes, the microphone will still pick up what they're saying, but it won't be as optimal as speaking directly into the mic.
Holding the microphone in the middle of its body helps with directionality as well as comfort.
- Gripping the microphone at the base will make it wobbly and uncomfortable to hold.
- Holding it with your hand over the grille will cover the rear ports to the capsule and reduce the directionality of the microphone, reducing the potential gain-before-feedback.
- Holding the middle of the mic optimizes both the presenter's comfort level and the performance of the microphone.
As for comfort, everyone is different, but most often, a medium grip, flexible wrist, and natural elbow position are the most ergonomic. The idea here is to hold the microphone in its optimal position comfortably.
Enough is going on with the presentation and audience interaction. The microphone should be the least of your worries! Practice these techniques until they become second nature.
How Loud Do You Need To Speak Into The Microphone?
The point of using a microphone (and an accompanying public address system) during a presentation is to amplify the presenter's voice so that the audience can easily hear what is being said.
If the presenter holds the microphone correctly, they shouldn't have to worry too much about the loudness of their voice.
However, there are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to the loudness of the presenter's voice.
- Shouting or speaking loudly
- Whispering or speaking quietly
- Inverse-square law
Shouting Or Speaking Loudly
Shouting or speaking loudly can be utilized with great effect during a speech but will tire your voice if done throughout.
On the technical side, most live vocal microphones have high maximum sound pressure levels, so they typically won't be overloaded by shouting at close range.
The danger of distortion and clipping lies in the mixer or loudspeakers. If you plan on yelling into the mic during your presentation, let the sound technician know so that they can give you a bit of extra headroom so to avoid audio distortion.
When speaking loudly, it may be beneficial to hold the microphone away from your mouth. In this case, the microphone will capture the intense tone of voice without the sudden jump in volume. That being said, volume spikes can also be used to great effect.
Whispering Or Speaking Quietly
Whispering or speaking quietly is a bit more of a problem when speaking into a microphone.
The issue with quiet voices has to do with the signal-to-noise ratio. Imagine a room with ambient noises such as fans and air conditioning. Combined with the audience noise and the sound of the presenter's physical movements. The noise is not negligible.
The quieter the presenter speaks into the microphone, the louder these noises are relative to the voice. On top of that, when the mic audio is turned up in the public address system, additional noise is re-introduced to the signal and the risk of feedback increases.
For more information on microphones and signal-to-noise ratio, check out the following My New Microphone article: What Is A Good Signal-To-Noise Ratio For A Microphone?
The Inverse-Square Law
The Inverse Square Law states that sound level intensity decreases by 6 decibels for every doubling of distance from the source. In simpler terms, sound intensity is quartered for every doubling of distance.
Holding a microphone two inches from your mouth theoretically results in an audio signal 4 times greater than if you were to hold the mic four inches from your mouth and 16 times greater than holding the mic eight inches from your mouth.
So if you're a quiet speaker, hold the mic closer to your mouth. If you're a powerful speaker, you can likely get away with holding the mic further away.
Speaking at a regular conversational level will work fine if the microphone is held correctly.
Decibels can be tricky to understand. To learn more about decibels, check out my article What Are Decibels? The Ultimate dB Guide For Audio & Sound.
How Much Movement Is Possible With A Handheld Microphone?
Holding a handheld mic (rather than speaking into a mic on a mic stand) comes with the freedom to move around. Let's discuss some general guidelines for moving around with a handheld microphone.
We'll start our discussion with moving arms and turning heads.
Assume no change in vocal tone or intensity.
To keep a consistent microphone signal, it's imperative to keep the microphone pointed at your mouth and an unchanging distance and angle. So when you turn your head, move the microphone relative to your head turn, and vice versa!
If the microphone is wired, caution should be taken to avoid tripping over the audio cable. Wireless microphones are often used in presentations for improved user experience and safety.
Avoid stepping in front of the loudspeakers (in a position where the speaker points toward the top of the mic). This poses a huge risk for the awful sound of microphone feedback.
Feedback happens when a mic captures sound emanating from the loudspeakers, which sends more signal to the loudspeakers and, therefore, more to the microphone. This loop stacks up quickly, and the system overloads, resulting in a terrible squeal from the loudspeakers.
For more information on microphone feedback, check out my articles 12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback and What Is Microphone Feedback And How To Eliminate It For Good.
The last guideline to touch on has to do with the range of a wireless system.
Unless the presentation takes place over a mile-long stage, this probably won't be a problem. However, it's worth noting that wireless microphone signals will only travel so far from their receivers before they start losing signal strength and ultimately cutting out.
It's also imperative that you find a wireless frequency with no interference in which to operate.
For more information on wireless microphones, check out my article How Do Wireless Microphones Work?
How To Reduce Popping And Plosives
Microphone “pops” or “plosives” are distracting to listeners. Since eliminating b's, p's, and t's from regular speech is out of the question, we'll discuss ways to reduce the inherent problem of popping and plosives in directional microphones instead.
Holding the microphone correctly, as discussed at the beginning of this article, is an excellent way to reduce plosives. Why is this?
- The microphone is slightly off-axis
- The microphone is some distance from your mouth
The Microphone Is Slightly Off-Axis
The 45-degree angle below the mouth doesn't only complement the interaction between the presenter and the audience. The mic's 45-degree “off-axis” position also reduces the amount of plosive energy that enters the microphone capsule.
Compare this to speaking directly into the microphone, and you'll notice a reduction in popping when the mic is held in an off-axis position.
The Microphone Is Some Distance From Your Mouth
Holding the mic further from your mouth will reduce the risk of plosives for the same reason. The larger distance between the mouth and capsule allows plosive energy to dissipate before hitting the mic capsule.
If you happen to notice your voice “popping” on the microphone, try readjusting the microphone angle and perhaps increasing the distance between the mic and your mouth.
It's not the end of the world if there are plosives in the mic, but they can become annoying. If perfection is being strived for, knowing these techniques will work wonders!
For an in-depth discussion on vocal plosives and microphones, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
More On The Technical Details Of Holding A Microphone
I wanted to mention a few more details about the typical cardioid polar pattern of “presentation microphones.”
The cardioid polar pattern is the most common directional microphone pattern. The diaphragm is open to external sound pressure on both sides (though more at the front than at the rear).
Here's a visual 360º representation of the cardioid polar pattern. The further out the pattern line is, the more sensitive the mic is, ideally (on-axis/0º is at 12 o'clock):
Its directionality makes it sensitive where it points, less sensitive to its sides, and least sensitive to sounds from its rear. This is why we point cardioid microphones in the direction in which we want them to capture.
For a full description of the cardioid pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Directional to Omnidirectional
Holding the cardioid microphone by its head or grille will block the rear ports of the capsule. With the rear ports blocked, sound pressure variance happens at the front side of the diaphragm only.
To learn more about microphone grilles, check out my article What Are Microphone Grilles And Why Are They Important?
This effectively turns the directional cardioid polar pattern into an omnidirectional pattern. In other words, holding the microphone by its head will make it equally sensitive in all directions.
Here's a visual representation of the omnidirectional polar pattern. Notice how the pattern line maintains a consistent radius around the entire circle/sphere:
The signal-to-noise ratio will suffer, and the risk of feedback will increase.
This is another reason why it's best to hold the microphone in the middle!
For more info on the omnidirectional polar pattern, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
The Proximity Effect
The second inherent characteristic I wanted to mention of directional microphones is the proximity effect.
The Proximity Effect states that as a directional microphone approaches a sound source, the bass response of the microphone increases. In simple terms, placing the microphone closer to your mouth will give your voice more bass!
The proximity effect is often exploited on the radio. Perhaps a presenter's voice could benefit from the bass boost. However, a microphone placed too close to the presenter's mouth could result in:
- Bass overload.
- Poorer visual communication.
- Pops and plosives.
- Mouth noise.
- Greater variance in vocal sound intensity as the mic naturally moves closer and further from the mouth during the presentation.
For more information on the microphone proximity effect, check out my article What Is Microphone Proximity Effect And What Causes It?
How do you hold a microphone when singing? When singing, there will typically be other instruments and music going on around you. Holding the mic a bit closer to your mouth will reduce excessive noise in the vocal mic. This technique is often referred to as “eating the mic.” Thought should also be put into optimizing the body position for singing while holding the microphone.
For an in-depth answer to this related question, check out my article on How To Hold A Microphone When Singing Live.
What is the best type of microphone for public speaking? The best mic for public speaking is a dynamic microphone with a cardioid directional pattern. These mics are simple, rugged, and when held correctly, pick up the voice while rejecting the sound around them. Wireless dynamic mics offer more flexibility for movement and fewer tripping hazards but have the potential to “cut out” if there's any interference.
To learn more about My New Microphone's recommended microphones for public speaking, check out the following articles:
• Best Handheld Microphones For Live Speaking
• Best Podium Microphones For Live Speaking
Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.