Category Archives for Public Speaking Tips

Using the Microphone – Part 5 – Practice

Ready to start practising your speech but don’t have a microphone handy? Or perhaps not yet confident of using the microphone as well as using notes for your speech? Let’s get you organised…


Standing or sitting reasonably still is necessary to ensure you can communicate fully and easily. By practising beforehand you will get over that “frozen” feeling of not wanting to knock the microphone or drop your notes.


Set up a practice area – chair, table and something to be the “microphone”, particularly if this is going to be fixed in place when you deliver your speech.

Stay within the confines you have set yourself for movement whilst delivering your speech and work at it until you are satisfied with your efforts. If you kick or brush against the “microphone” you will know you have moved too much and can adjust for your next practice run. If you lose your place in your notes when mastering the microphone, you may need to rethink how to have your notes with you for your speech.


The more familiar you become with these tools (hand held, freestanding or lavalier microphones) the better your speech will be delivered. And that is the aim for everyone – even me – to improve every time you deliver a speech.

Using the Microphone – Part 4 – Moving Around

Moving around with a microphone has become much easier since the advent of the lavalier or bud microphone. These days you can be wired up and have the microphone either hanging off an earpiece fitting or tucked into the lapel or collar of your clothing. With that in mind I have split this post into two as the movement issue is different for the types of microphone you may encounter. If you generally use a bud and are faced with having to use the fixed variety, it is very important to practice (covered in Part 5 of this series) as you will be used to much more freedom of movement than the fixed microphone will allow.


Fixed Floor or Table Microphone

This microphone cannot follow you around so you will need to train yourself to sit or stand still. Try not to turn your head too far away from the microphone, drop your chin or consult your notes too often as this will restrict both the volume and direction of your voice into the microphone.

You can still be yourself – move your arms, smile and emphasise points in your speech, you just need to be aware of where the microphone is and not restrict the amount of your voice it is picking up for amplification.


Lavalier or Bud Microphone

I am a big fan of these microphones – they allow so much more movement and use of the presentation area. They do, however, have their own tricks for better use. The biggest is that you can, and probably will, move around a lot. Try not to pace the length of your presentation area – after a while your audience will be distracted by your moving back and forwards in front of them and will follow your progress rather than hear your words.

For using a bud microphone that is attached to an over the ear headpiece, always check the distance of the microphone from your mouth. I actually don’t need it in front of my mouth, an inch to the left and an inch out from my face works best with most models. You will need to do a sound check to get the right placement for you and your voice.

Next I make sure that if it is attached to a battery pack that I have this securely tucked into a back pocket. Experience has shown that this works best for me……experience of having to have it taped to my body once!!

The neatest trick I have discovered (from another presenter) with a lavalier microphone is to clip it inside your collar, lapel or shirt at collarbone level. This ensures it picks up your voice well but doesn’t pick up lots of those extra noises I mentioned in the previous post. Each time I clip the microphone on this way I am reminded of the scene from Singing in the Rain when they attach a microphone inside an actress’ dress and can only hear her heart beating! This has not been my experience I hasten to add.


Regardless of the style of microphone you will be using, you must practise using it to be comfortable and able to forget that it is there to focus on your speech. You have to adapt to its needs but you should not be a slave to it.

In the next post I will talk about how to practise when you don’t have a microphone on hand.

Using the Microphone – Part 3 – Other Noises

A microphone is excellent for projecting your voice so your speech is clear for everyone in the audience to hear. Unfortunately it will also transmit other noises it picks up and these can be very distracting for your audience.


A few examples:

  • rattling paper (usually your notes too close to the microphone)
  • chunky jewellery particularly bracelets, bangles and wristbands
  • pens/pencils being tapped on the lectern or table
  • clicking pens on and off (sometimes an unconscious habit)
  • arm or hand movements that may collide with the microphone


You should also be careful to keep your notes on the side of the microphone away from you. When you hold your notes between you and the microphone you create both a barrier for eye contact with your audience and a barrier for the passage of air between your mouth and the microphone. It can sound to the audience as though you have your head wrapped in a towel!


In the next post I will talk about moving around when using a microphone.

Using the Microphone – Part 2 – Judging the Volume

Naturally the best way to judge the microphone volume is to do some tests. Remember my advice from the previous post about using unique testing phrases.

If it’s not possible to do some testing before your speech, listen carefully when you are introduced. Look at the audience and watch their body language – are they leaning slightly forward or to one side? You may be behind the speakers or amplifiers so not be able to hear the sound the way the audience is hearing it.

When the audience appear to be straining to hear, you will need to project your voice more into the microphone. If, on the other hand, they appear to be shrinking from the volume, you should adjust how far away you stand from the microphone to lessen its voice magnification, then speak at your usual conversation volume.


In the next post I will talk about all the other noises a microphone can pick up whilst you are speaking.

Using a Microphone – Part 1

Over the next 6 posts I am going to talk about using a microphone, whether it is handheld, on a stand, a lavalier (clip on microphone) or a headset.

First and foremost, the microphone is not there to make you feel nervous. It is a means of ensuring you are heard throughout the audience – it is an aid which you you use whenever possible.


When you are asked to make a speech, always check that there will be a microphone and what style it will be. If this is a type you have not used before, see if you can borrow one to practice. Then arrive early to the venue and test the actual microphone yourself. Microphones vary almost as much as people do so you should always be comfortable with the equipment on hand.


When you do a sound check, do not count to 10 or recite some well known ditty. Those listening know what to expect so will not concentrate as much on how clear the sound is compared to you saying something they have not heard before.

If there appears to be some distortion with a handheld or stand microphone, move back slightly or lower it a little. The ideal position for a microphone is below your chin and about 12″ away – hence the popularity of lavalier (clipon microphones) and headsets. The most useful piece of advice I received when I was starting out (from a musician) was to treat the handheld microphone as an ice cream cone and hold it where you felt comfortable without eating it!

The next post will cover judging the volume when using a microphone for your speech.

How to Finish a Speech

Now that I have talked about how to start your speech, we need to look at the ways you can finish your speech with impact.

Whether your speech is prepared or “on the spot”, never indicate when you are about to finish. You will lose the attention of your audience immediately as they focus on what is happening next or what they need to do next….or worse still, they will head for the door…before you have delivered your final summation or call to action.

So what do you do when you realise you have a short space of time left and you haven’t covered all the points you prepared for your speech? Do not be tempted to work through them all at pace – this will destroy any attention and respect you have gained from the audience up to this point. Instead go directly to your conclusion which should summarise everything you were going to talk about. Then smile or acknowledge the audience, step back and breathe.

Do not apologise for not getting through all you had planned – no-one knows that but you. You want your audience to remember your final words whether that is a summation of the ideas presented or a call to action they should take. You want them to go away talking about your speech and the content you presented.

It is much better to have a satisfied audience wanting to hear more than one that has become bored or fidgetty because you have run over time.

In my experience, the most interesting way to finish a speech is with a question. You are handing the information and ideas you have presented to the audience and challenging them to either think or take action. Isn’t that the result you want?

Making a Speech Interesting

Following on from an earlier post about using the right words in your speech, today I want to help you develop your skills in painting word pictures.

Painting word pictures well, gives your audience an impression to take away with them – it makes your speech “memorable”.

  • Be original in your choice of descriptive words – e.g. “nice” is a word that has lost all its meaning, it doesn’t describe anything accurately.
  • Never aim your vocabulary below the intelligence of your audience.
  • Discipline yourself to use words that will be easily understood by all.

When you have to compress your thoughts to fit into a set amount of time, you will see just how valuable the right words can be. Used in the right places, they will give exact meaning to your sentences. You need to plan and refine what you think you should say to cut out the waffle.

A memorable speech is a logical speech – take your audience along the path one idea at a time by painting a vivid picture for them.

Master of Ceremonies – Weddings

The most common question I am asked about weddings is not about the various speeches but rather “What do I have to do as the Master of Ceremonies?”


Here is a quick checklist – the bottom line is that it is your job to keep the celebration moving along: speeches, gifts, toasts, cutting the cake and dancing!

Prior to the reception:

1. Check with the couple for any traditions that must be included in the proceedings – these may be cultural or family based.

2. Get a list of all the toasts and speeches to be made, who is to make them, where they will be seated and how long each one is expected to last.

3. Prepare a running sheet of activities (entrance, welcome to guests, parents speeches, couple speeches, other bridal party or family speeches, cake, dancing etc) and check this with the couple.

At the reception:

4. Ensure everyone is seated prior to the entry of the couple.

5. Announce the couple and allow them to enter the room and be seated.

6. Introduce yourself and make any special announcements e.g. photo restrictions of the venue, gift table or wishing well location etc.

7. Stick to the running sheet, particularly with timing of speeches. Check with each person making a speech a couple of minutes before their turn so they can prepare themselves.

8. Don’t let anyone ramble, tell inappropriate or embarrassing stories – keep the talking part to a minimum.

As with any public speaking situation, think back to similar ones that you feel were appropriate and use them as your learning examples.

How to Start Your Speech

Making a good start to your speech will help you to perform at your best. It sets the tone for the rest of your presentation and gives the audience a taste of what is to come.

Why, then, would you start with giving your name and the subject of your talk? You have just been introduced to the audience and, in some cases, they have a piece of paper in front of them (a program for instance) that gives them this information.

You need to find a way of beginning that you are comfortable with (see the notes about developing your style) and use that for every speech you make.

For me, it is using a date. For example – I might begin a speech with “Monday, January 27, 1973”, then pause. This gives the audience time to focus because they will usually want to know what is coming next, that is, why is this particular date important in the context of the speech. I always choose a date that has some relevance to my subject but it is not the same date every time. Often I will add an exact time as well. I have used this opening from speeches as diverse as eulogies to introducing competitors at public speaking competitions.


Just last week, I heard two more ways that might work for you.

1. Start with a “factoid” – a statement of some fact (that you know is true to avoid argument after your speech). In the example I heard, the speaker suggested “There are more people alive today than have ever died in all of history”. He claims it is a factoid that can be used to start speeches on all sorts of different topics.

2. “Once upon a time” – In the English speaking world for many generations this phrase will make your audience sit forward and be ready to listen because that is what we trained ourselves to do whenever we were about to be told a story.

Give these a try – find something that works for you.

Using the Right Words in Your Speech

Well over 50 years ago, George Orwell, the author, published his six rules for the use of good written English.

I believe they are just as useful to consider when you are preparing a speech, so here they are:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print;
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do;
  • If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out;
  • Never us the passive where you can use the active;
  • Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word or a jargon word if there is an everyday English equivalent;
  • Break any of these rules rather than say something outrightly barbarous.

Jargon is my personal bugbear when listening to speeches (or even everyday conversations). Every profession has its own form of shorthand that is understood by its members and not by others. Acronyms are also creeping into public speaking – these are even worse.

The best comedy routines can be based on the overuse of jargon, cliches and acronyms so don’t let your important speech become a target for amusement!

1 2 3