7 ways to Make Microphones Great (or just better)

I had just started my talk and only the front row (of about 50) were laughing at my opening joke. The others couldn’t hear it, because unfortunately for them, my microphone was still off.

The AV team rushed to me, mortified. They’d forgotten to switch my microphone on before I hit the stage. I calmly walked to the side of the stage and one of them gently tried to prise the microphone pack from its incredibly secure position on my back bra strap. Another member of the team joined in with the faff. The audience enjoyed a bit of a snafu and someone even tweeted the episode.

I can’t say I was traumatised, but since then I’ve not let another microphone pack grace my bra strap.

There was the time when I turned up to an event and the AV team had thoughtfully created elastic garters – one for the waist and one for the thigh, to where I could have the microphone pack attached to, rather than my bra. They were genuinely eager to try it out, so I obliged. It’s not something I’d love to do again.

I run a company that hosts events, so unsurprisingly I spend lots of time on stage with microphones. I am also at events throughout any given week, and so get to observe others using microphones with varying levels of success and comfort – to ask questions, make contributions to roundtables, or occasionally indulge in some karaoke.

With a limited ethnographic methodology, I’ve come to some conclusions on how to make microphone use great, or at least better. Reflecting on this, I’ve also now decided to always ask for a handheld microphone if it’s available – though from my experience handheld is the most expensive and barely the best of a bad bunch of limited available options.

Here goes – to future AV teams and microphone technologists:

1 – Be ready to clip microphone packs onto something else other than my underwear or in my pocket.

It is widely lamented how few women’s clothes have pockets. Until the clothing industry joins us in 2018, please be ready to attach the pack somewhere else – or not at all.

I’d love an innovation that reduces the size of the entire unit. Or one that uses magnets & distributes weight instead of there being an entire kilogram hanging off one stiff clip. For reference, I currently ask for this to be clipped to whatever fabric is at the nape of my neck. Or, once in a blue moon, I’m able to put it in my pocket.

2 – As much as the elastic strap is a great first step, I am ready for the next evolution.

I’ve seen microphone sashes (a bit thicker than the ones they use on those reality TV shows where people aren’t wearing much) but reckon you could also get away with putting the mic in a scarf, headband – a la Broadway – or even a wristband. Until then, be ready to give me a lectern mic or handheld microphone. I’d actually really enjoy ‘Pat Butcher’-esque clip-on microphones for my ears. Then you could even hear me in stereo…

3 – Auto on when speaking.

If the technology exists for tuning into specific conversations or a certain voice, then you can definitely get a microphone to just come on when someone is speaking. Alternatively have an on/off button on the microphone that resembles on/off buttons people may have seen at another point in their life, perhaps on the several other devices we have in our lives. It’s painful to watch a Q&A session where momentum is lost because someone needs to draw on a higher level of thought to turn on the microphone.

Ideally the ‘on’ should be gesture based like a smartwatch or maybe Myo. While on its way up towards a mouth, the microphone should be ready for showtime.

4 – Maybe opensource your receiver system.

I’d like to show up to places with my own microphone, the same way some speakers turn up to events with their own clicker or their own laptop. I would genuinely enjoy being able to use an app on my phone and talk into it like a walkie talkie. Mostly for bants.

5 – A microphone that doesn’t hear the rustle on my necklace.

There are elements of voice recognition (#3) in this, as well as noise cancelling qualities that we should apply to microphones and the systems that support them. I’ve been asked too many times this year to remove my necklace for the sake of filming or speaking at an event. I’ve replied the same each time – “you might as well ask me to take my dress off”. Why not attach a muffler to the microphone. Or just offer me a lectern/handheld mic. *shrugs*

6 – A microphone that doesn’t need to be so close to my face that it rubs off my makeup or catches on my hair.

I can’t lie – I like to feel like Beyonce when I’m speaking. I also like to have the makeup left on my face when I’m leaving the building after a gig. Especially my lipstick. Can’t you turn up the volume for the sake of 1cm? Also, it should be a shade of brown, rather than a shade of peach, if someone like me is going to be using it.

7 – I have saved the worst until last.

When you’re mid-sentence, mid-thought and the battery runs out on the microphone. In terms of a solution, there’s not much to be said on this. I’m a conspiracy theorist about battery life in general. It’s something that iPhone users have been subjected to for years. Wired microphones aren’t all that bad, are they? They agree certainly cheaper than their wireless competitors.

Mildly constructive rant over. (If you would like to book me to speak, you can email my agent here.)

[Top Photo credit Tatjana Schnalzger 2018. A wireless microphone & I on stage at Wirtschaftswunder Liechtenstein, Young Leaders event,  Nov 2018]

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