“Your microphone is the connection between you and what your clients hear.”
– James Young, BunnyStudio Sound Effects
I would hate to have to make this decision – but if I had to, I would choose good audio over good lighting, good staging, and good clothing! Why? Because sound effects affect everything.
Think of the microphone as an amplification of your heart and mind. Your role as the master of ceremonies is to guide attendees into a shared experience. There are few things as powerful as the human voice, especially that of the event host.
By following the suggestions in this chapter, you will learn about the importance of good audio, how to improve your sound, and how to make a bigger impact as the conductor of the event.
See Related: Listen – How To Be A Great Emcee
Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…
Here are a few guidelines to help you shape up your sound:
#1. Meet the audio technician before the event.
This is crucial. The first thing I do when I arrive at the venue is meet the audio team– and the person I’m looking for most of all is the audio tech. I want to learn the audio tech’s name and establish a good rapport with him or her because I think of this person as my partner throughout the program.
I’ll tell you more in a moment about the types of mics to choose from and which one I recommend, but for now, the point I want to make is simply this: get to know your audio tech.
#2. Always do a sound check before the program begins.
Just like we talked about earlier in the chapter on keeping it moving, practice makes perfect. I like to arrive at the venue several hours before the event starts to do a sound check. It is important to know how you’re going to sound long before your attendees enter the room.
It’s typical for people to say, “Checking, 1, 2, 3,” or, “Testing, 1, 2, 3,” or, “Soundcheck, 1, 2, 3.” Sometimes we’ll have some fun with it and throw in silly phrases like, “Canceled check, pick up the check, checks in the mail,” et cetera. You get the idea. What’s more important than saying the word “check” is speaking like you will during the program.
During this sound rehearsal time, try out one of your introductions. Practice your opening using the actual language that you’ll be using during the program. The sound check is your opportunity to iron out any audio issues that arise.
#3. Walk around the stage and floor to hear how you will sound.
If you’re a good corporate MC (and I know you’re becoming one), you’re going to be moving around on the platform and mingling with the audience during the event.
I like to walk all over the stage and into the seating area while the sound check or audio rehearsal is happening. This allows me to get a sense of how it will sound to attendees.
Here are a couple of other tips to keep in mind:
- Remember that human bodies will soak up some of the sound, so you may want the actual presentation to be a little louder than the audio level during the sound check. It is important to discuss this with your sound tech during the rehearsal so he or she knows exactly what adjustments to make.
- I like to walk in front of the floor-mounted speakers during the sound check so I can tell whether there’s going to be any feedback as I’m speaking. If I sense feedback during this technical rehearsal, it lets me know that I need to avoid walking in front of the speakers during the actual program.
Now that we’ve covered sound check, let’s talk about microphones.
Your microphone choice is extremely important because it’s your most direct link to your audience. The quality of your microphone can make or break the experience for your attendees. If your mic isn’t dependable, it can make for an awkward program.
If your audience can’t hear you, they won’t be able to connect with you.
Here are the best microphone options:
#1. Headset (also called Over the Ear mics)
Pros: A good headset microphone frees up your hands so you can shake hands with audience members, fist bump presenters as they come onstage, walk around with props, perform magic tricks, juggle, and so forth. All kinds of things become possible when your hands are free.
Cons: Your audio level will stay about the same throughout the program and you will not be able to emphasize certain phrases or keywords or tap into the power of vocal variety.
Recommended brand: Countryman
#2. Lapel (also called Clip On)
Pros: Lapel microphones are super easy to use. You just have the audio technician attach the mic to your shirt, tie, jacket, et cetera. Your hands are free, and you don’t have to worry about a cord getting tangled up around your neck or behind your head. It feels quite natural.
Cons: Sometimes the audio level is iffy. Lapel mics can be heard when you bump into them. They can also become detached accidentally during the program.
Recommended brand: Audio Technica
#3. Wireless Handheld
Pros: You will feel a sense of control and will be able to best amplify your voice with a handheld microphone.
Cons: You will need to position the mic in a mic stand or at least one of your hands will not be free.
Recommended brand: Shure
#4. Podium Mounted (also called a Gooseneck Mic)
Pros: If you are super attached to a script or awards sequence, you can place it on the podium and not have to worry about the microphone at all.
Cons: The podium-mounted mic is perhaps the least trustworthy volume source in terms of emphasis. It can also make a loud, squeaking noise if you adjust it in real-time. Because different presenters are at different heights, it can be awkward to adjust the gooseneck during the program.
Recommended brand: Audio Technica ($150 on Amazon)
#5. No mic at all!
Pros: It’s a great feeling to not have to worry about any microphones at all. It also allows you to have your hands and head completely free, and with good acoustics, it can also feel very intimate with an audience.
Cons: It lessens your authority as a speaker. Having no microphone at all can also cause you to lose your voice, e.g., at a live auction or in another situation where your voice might be strained. Another con is that if they can’t hear you, you’re not being an effective master of ceremonies.
Recommended brand: Your own voice…but don’t lose it!
Those are your options. But here’s my recommendation:
You should use a handheld wireless microphone. I strongly recommend that as an event MC you use one whenever possible (my favorite is the Shure SM58).
Just like stand-up comedians have experienced, you can dazzle the ears in the audience with whispers, by raising your voice, emphasizing key words, and other vocal tricks with a handheld microphone.
With a handheld wireless mic, you can interact with audience members, interview guest speakers, or hold panels. Hack: if you need to not be heard for a moment, you can even pull the microphone away from your mouth and whisper to an assistant or prep manager, “Hey, can you get me a bottle of water?” and the audience won’t hear it.
This may be the most important point of all. From an attendee’s perspective, seeing and hearing someone with a handheld mic projects a sense of expertise onto them.
You can overcome the challenge of not having your hands free by placing your handheld mic in a straight mic stand.
Note: I do recommend a straight mic stand rather than a boom stand because after all, you’re a speaker and your voice is your instrument– you’re not playing the guitar or saxophone.
By tapping into the power of great sound, you will maximize your impact as a master of ceremonies.
Keep Reading: Notecards And Prompters – How To Be A Great Emcee
This is an excerpt from Adam Christing‘s forthcoming book, “How To Be A Great Emcee: The A to Z Guide to Hosting Events” by America’s #1 Master of Ceremonies. Follow along as new chapters get posted to this blog category each week.