Complete Guide to Microphones – for Emcee’s and Professional Speakers

If you are working as an MC at any event, you are going to have to use a microphone, unless it’s to the smallest of audiences. And unless you are providing the sound system yourself, you are going to be provided with a range of different types of microphones and at many different quality levels.

Understanding the different microphone types that you might encounter, the pros and cons of each and how to use them to your advantage is an essential skill for any MC who wants to be successful. Additionally, in your role as MC you should be helping and providing advice to your presenters, VIP’s and Special Guests who may or may not be experienced in using them. Remember, your role is much broader than just making announcements and introducing speakers.

In this extensive article we cover –

# The different types of Microphone you might encounter

# The pros and cons of each type and Essential Tips on how to use them

# Our preferred Microphone and why you should request it

# Why you should consider purchasing your own microphone

# Our current recommendations on what Microphone to Buy (Updated December 2019)

Microphone Overview

It’s important to remember that a microphone is not just a tool to aid in amplifying your voice. A good microphone and good microphone technique will help you convey your personality, add emotion, control, suspense, surprise and more!

As you will read in more depth later in the article, I’m a big fan of the handheld wireless microphone for MC’s. Sure, you can go with a sturdy lectern, a nice lapel microphone or headset, but nothing beats the sound quality that can be produced with a handheld. Watch a good singer and hear the range of sound that can be produced. You can both whisper and shout to great effect.

It’s also a symbol, a “Wand of Power” or “Talking Stick”. People see it and know that YOU are in charge. You can use it also to emphasise things you say, to point and more.

It can also encourage applause and affirmations from the audience just by holding it out at them, things you can’t do with a headset, lapel or lectern microphone.

We will give you some tips and techniques for getting the most out of every microphone.



Hopefully by the end we might even convince you to take the extra step of buying your own and taking it with you to assignments. We give you some great recommendations and microphone reviews towards the end of the article.




Sound Check –  Testing 1, 2, 3

Let’s start with some general microphone tips.

Always check any microphone that has been provided to you before every assignment!

Assume nothing!

Never tap the Microphone to see if it’s on or blow into it! While most microphones are fairly robust, delicate microphones can be damaged in this way, so it’s good practice to never do it.

Snapping your fingers a few inches away or a gentle scratch with a finger nail across the top is much better.

The sound person has probably checked it works, but as you test it out as well, from the stage, they can make fine adjustments at the sound desk, something they can’t really do by themselves.

As you check the sound, speak at normal level, then loudly and then softly.

Move around the stage area and see if there are any feedback issues. Feedback is the high squealing noise that happens if the microphone gets in front of or too close to a speaker box. If there is any chance that you or one of your presenters will move off the stage at any time with the microphone, be sure to check this.

Learn how it turns on and off.  You will often have a speaker or VIP inadvertently turn a microphone off. You should be able to quickly remedy this rather than waiting for the sound guy to arrive on stage to fix it.

I usually also ask if there are fresh batteries in the microphone. If your client is paying for the hire of a sound system, they should provide a set of fresh batteries. Remember you are the eyes and ears of your client.

I’ll provide some more tips for each as we look at the different microphone types.

Types of Microphones


There are several different types of microphones that you may have to use at different assignments. I’ve outlined the main types here plus some tips on how to use each and how to avoid some of the mistakes a lot of people make.


Lectern Microphone

These are directly attached to a lectern. Usually one or two sensitive microphones on short flexible arms. In some cases it may just be a ordinary microphone on a boom stand positioned over the lectern.

When you do your sound check, adjust the height so the microphones are about the same height as your mouth.

As mentioned these are sensitive microphones. You don’t need to lean right into them. You will see this a lot with inexperienced speakers who think they need to get very close for them to work. Stand up straight and deliver your material. The sound person will adjust the level and you will look a lot more confident and professional.

You will also see tall or short speakers sometimes adjust the height of the microphones. If you know the speaker is very tall, move them up slightly yourself as they are coming to the lectern. This is a much better than them fiddling about with the arms. Likewise with very short presenters, lower the height. Then after their presentation put them back into the normal position. It’s good to test how easily they move when you do the sound check, though sound people as a rule don’t like you fiddling with them.

If you are able to, I also talk to every presenter before the event and if we have time, show them the set up on stage. Lectern, microphone, monitor, time keeping device etc. Pass on any tips you have on using the specific microphones at this point.

Another thing to watch for with Lectern microphones is to not brush them with your Run Sheet, papers or notes. The sensitive microphones will pick up that annoying noise much more than with a handheld.

Another tip with Lecterns for MC’s is .. Do Not leave your Run Sheet, Introductions etc on the lectern when a speaker is presenting. They will often gather up all the papers on the top when they finish and it’s very embarrassing to get there and find your script or Agenda is gone.


Lapel Microphone / Lavaliere

The Lapel Microphone or Lavaliere is the preferred choice for many speakers who like to move around the stage and have their hands free. Like the headset microphone that we will discuss next, they have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ve had a many situations in the past where this was the only option of microphone provided so it’s good to know about them.

These are made up of three components.

The microphone, the transmitter and the receiver.

Note – you sometimes may get a Lapel Microphone that does not have a transmitter/receiver. It has a thin cable that runs to the sound system. These are normally for interviews, video etc, where the guest will not be moving around.  Once again, you may be surprised to find it as the supplied microphone with a small sound system in a function room.

The microphone unit itself can be tiny and the quality level ranges widely. These can be very expensive delicate units designed for TV, Video and Filming. They can also be cheap and nasty.

If the sound person has provided this, they will have their preferred placement position for the microphone. They usually have a small alligator type clip for attachment to clothing.This will either be on a tie, or a suit lapel (hence the name Lapel Microphone.) If you are a female presenter it’s good to think about where the microphone can get clipped on.

The microphone is then attached with a thin cable to the transmitter unit. This transmits the signal from the microphone to the receiver which is normally at the sound desk/sound system. Most transmitters are small, about the size of a pack of cards. But they have to go somewhere.

Inside jacket pocket is a good choice for men or clipping it onto your belt. (These are often referred to as “belt packs.) Some female presenters don’t have the luxury of a jacket pocket or belt, so it’s worth thinking about this as well if you are intending to use one.

Once again, beware of brushing anything against the microphone. This includes your jacket, your run sheet etc. Think about if you need to reach into your pocket for anything and possibly adjust where it is placed.

Mobile phones can also be an issue. Some microphones pick up the tiny signal a phone makes periodically as it checks into the network. I always suggest they are turned off at presentation time.

The other point worth remembering is that once they are turned on they are often “live”. The sound guy might not have the channel down on his sound desk so any last minute trips to the toilet and backstage discussions about the CEO may be broadcast to the entire room. It’s better to assume you are “live,” rather than add to the large number of embarrassing stories out there.

The final part of the setup is the Receiver unit. This is patched directly into the sound desk or straight into the amplifier and receives the signal from your microphone via the transmitter pack in your pocket.

Headset Microphone

The Headset Microphone is similar in many ways to the wireless Lapel Microphone set up. The difference being that instead of a microphone itself being clipped on your jacket the microphone is held near your mouth at the end of a short wire arm. The arm is part of a lightweight headset that you wear on your head, the ends going over one or both ears.

Once again this is connected via a light wire down to the transmitter unit that you clip to your belt, that sends the signal to the receiver.

Being closer to your mouth these produce a much better sound than a lapel microphone and this is the reason they are used so widely in concerts and in musical theatre. There are a huge range of these microphones available.

Obviously with the distance between mouth and microphone being fixed, you can’t do some of the vocal effects that you can with a Hand Held. They are tricky also if you want to interview or ask questions of your guests or audience members.

They do take some experimenting to get the arm and microphone in the right place. They also do tend to move about a bit on your head being quite lightweight. Many people use adhesive tape to secure them and the wire inplace. If you are considering getting a set, I’ve always found the headset that clips over BOTH ears far more stable.

I’ve never owned a Headset Microphone but have been supplied one at quite a few events by the sound crew.

Working as the MC at Trade shows, Product Demonstrations, Road Shows & Gala Events may require you to use one.

Handheld Microphone    –  Wired


The beauty of a good handheld microphone is the quality of the sound and in many cases, the cost.

The downside of course, is the cable. If you are moving around the stage area, you need to watch what you are doing so you don’t get in a tangle. You also need to watch where the cables end up so that your guests and presenters don’t trip on them.
If you are working with a cabled microphone (sometimes called a Line Microphone) also resist the desire to fiddle with the cable. They can pick up noise or become disconnected.

At your sound check test how to adjust the microphone stand and get the microphone into and out of the clip.

You should get quite close to the microphone head when you talk, see our note about this in the next section. If there is a sound technician, also ask if you should be speaking directly into the microphone head or accross the head. There are different patterns of microphones pickup areas. Your sound person will be able to tell you and should be impressed that you asked.

Handheld Wireless Microphone

This is probably the most common microphone you may get to use. Unlike the Lapel or Headset microphone, there is no need for a transmitter unit in your pocket or on your belt. The transmitter is built into the barrel of the microphone itself but once again transmits it’s signal to a receiver at the sound desk.

The microphone head itself is often the same excellent one you would find on a wired microphone.

I’ve already explained some of the reasons why I prefer using a hand held wireless microphone. (Often also called a Radio Microphone)

Better sound quality, freedom to move about the stage and into the audience, ability to ask questions of people and hear their response etc.

They can also be much louder. If you have a noisy crowd, a sound technician can boost the volume of the sound much higher with a handheld than they can with a lectern or lapel microphone. This will help bring the crowd under control. I sometimes use a handheld to do this and then switch to the lectern when they are all focused and quiet.


Here are some tips on using a Handheld Wireless Microphone.

A common mistake with hand held microphones, both wireless and wired, is that people don’t get close enough to them.

The sound person can only do so much to boost the sound. I’ve seen many a crowd lose total interest in all the presentations because one speaker early on didn’t use the microphone well. As the MC, you can coach them before they start and if needed, be ready to prompt them during their presentation to hold the microphone a little closer. 

A nice technique to get the right distance is this. Clench your fist and then extend the little finger and thumb. That’s the distance your mouth should be away from a microphone. Try it. It’s also a good way to quickly prompt a speaker into the right position.

Holding the microphone

Don’t grab the microphone with a tight grip wrapping your whole hand around it. A better and smarter way is to grip it with just your fingers. And further down the barrel rather than at the top near the head is better.

Lock the Elbow

Here’s another technique that you might want to master if you are moving about or turning from side to side addressing a large room. You can see it used by many Stand Up comedians. Once you have the microphone the correct distance from your face, move the elbow of the arm holding the microphone into the body. This locks the microphone in place even when you turn one way or another.

Noise

Watch out for excessive noise if your Microphone is on. Placing it on a table or desk can make a big clunk. There is also the danger of it getting moved when you are not there. Most sound crew will provide a spare microphone stand and clip, so that when you leave the stage you can clip it in there. Then you know exactly where it is when you need it again. At the Sound Check test to see if you can easily turn it off and on.

If you do have to pick it up and put it down a lot, ask them if they have a piece of foam you can put it on, or even just use a folded napkin.

Why you should bring your own Microphone. 


Once you get into the swing of doing MC assignments you will quickly see that you will be provided with many different levels of microphone quality.
If you can provide better sound, you will do a better job. Do a better job and you get better testimonials, more recommendations and possible re-booking.

At smaller events, your client, the person who is organising the event and booking the function room or hall etc, will often be getting a “sound system” provided with that booking. Often these will be old, knocked about and really not up scratch. There may also not be a dedicated Audio Visual person there, just a manager who know how to set it up. If you can go back to your car and grab a quality microphone to plug into this system, this may really improve things.

Even at larger events where there might be an Audio Visual person, having your own gear might also ensure a better sound. Perhaps the client has not booked a wireless microphone and just assumes you will work from behind the lectern. While working from behind the lectern is fine in certain situations, (I do it a lot myself,) in other situations, being away from the lectern is much stronger.

Another common situation at events is the request to “just use the bands microphone.”  While this sometimes can work out, it’s more often than not complicated. The band will be set up for them. There are stage monitors, instruments, effects boxes, set lists etc. The microphone itself may be specific to the vocal range and style of the singer and the AV person will have set the audio desk specifically for that person. Providing your own microphone can make things a whole lot easier.

Once you have invested in some gear you can also mention that in your information material. It makes you look far more professional and in many cases will help you push your fees up.

Current Recommendations.  

If you could only buy one microphone, for a first one I would buy this one. It’s a wired mike or line mike, meaning of course it does need a cable. But the first time you plug it in to replace a cheap supplied mike that has been dropped a hundred times you’ll be repaid for your small investment. I kept one in the car for many years and used it plenty of times at corporate and community events.

The Shure SM58

It’s a classic for a reason. It’s robust, great for stage use and has excellent sound and is relatively inexpensive. Yes, there are plenty of other options and many will argue better options, but you can’t go wrong with this choice.

Many artists use it and the frequency response is ideal for vocals. It also has a built in “pop filter” that will minimise some extraneous noises.

No battery or “phantom power” required. The standard version comes with XLR connections which are very common in the industry, so it will fit into a huge range of situations.

They are also very quiet microphones. Cheaper types tend to transmit a lot of extra noise, for instance from your hand or when you take the microphone into or out of the stand.

If you have to work with a cheap microphone and poor sound system, substituting this into the mix will make a big difference!

You will also find it is great for home recording use – Podcast, Video Message, Audio Books, Video Commentary etc. I have recorded many audio tracks and training’s with mine.

There are also Wireless Versions of the Shure SM58 Microphone but my recommendation for a Wireless Microphone is different. See below.

Here’s a link to Amazon to check out current pricing on the great Shure SM58

Alternative – If you have slightly more to spend, the Beta 58 A has a better or wider pickup area. Without getting into the technical details, it’s a better microphone for people who don’t really know how to use a microphone properly, like guests or audience members.

Wireless Handheld Microphone

Sennheiser  EW135

This is another classic.

Sennheiser are probably now more well known for their range of great Headphones but they have been making Microphones for many years and are well respected in the industry.


I bought one many years ago. It was actually the second wireless or radio microphone I invested in. The first was a Shure Model but I had a few issues with that. I thought the Receiver unit was a bit flimsy and the range of frequencies it could use a bit limited.

[This is important. For a few years I worked at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. I was the MC on one of the big stages and in fact produced the entertainment program there for a couple of years. There were many people using Wireless Microphones around the site, so interference was a problem. You can also run into this at large hotel venues. There might be several functions on at the same time, each using wireless microphones for their MC, speeches and entertainers.]

I bought the Sennheiser in a package deal many years ago and it has never let me down. The receiver is small and robust and the microphone itself is fantastic.

You can also add on a Lavalier Microphone or Headset Microphone by also buying a belt pack transmitter and the appropriate microphone you want. You can use the receiver you already have or if the funds permit you can buy a package deal from the start often saving quite a lot. This makes it perfect little system that you could use in a multitude of venues and situations. E.g. Product Demonstrations, Fashion Parades, Auctions etc.

Once again having a Radio Microphone that you will bring to the event makes you look much more professional and helps you justify your fee. It also can save your client money! Let me explain.

Audio Visual companies, especially those working at corporate events, charge per piece of equipment that is booked. And they charge a lot for Radio or Wireless Microphones. If your client knows that you are bringing one, they may not need to book one, or can book one less. Note – I always get the client to inform the AV Team that you are bringing one and that they are to patch it into the system. This is important. If you just rock up and ask them to patch it in they will often come up with several reasons that they can’t. “We are not allowed, we don’t have a spare channel, it’s not tested etc.”  Having had the client inform them that it must happen ensures a smooth ride.

[This is always a good strategy to remember. If you ever have a sound crew or a venue staff person hassle you about anything, tell them to talk to the client rather than you. You are both working for the client, you are not working for the AV team or the venue. This often solves the problem as they don’t want to hassle the client.

We once got told by a Hotel Manager to turn down the sound on the Trivia Show that we were running or he would be forced to shut us down. I told him he was talking to the wrong person and to speak to the client who was paying vast sums of money for the event.  Of course he didn’t do that. Problem solved.]


If you are buying any Wireless microphone, it’s a good idea to check out what Radio Frequencies it uses and also what frequencies are allowed to be used in your country. Most countries block the use of various bands of frequencies for – emergency services, commercial radio etc. If you buy something online from a different country it may not be a “fit” for yours. Do some research, see what is being sold in shops and online in your country and you should be good to then purchase anywhere.

Here’s a link to Amazon to check out current pricing on the Sennheiser EW135    

There is also the excellent EW 100 range that can be slightly cheaper. Details here EW100   

Headsets

Most people I talk to in the Audio Industry say the best headsets for Speakers and MC’s are the Countryman series. I agree. As noted previously get the version that clips on both ears, they are much more stable.



Also, make sure you get a unit that is compatible with your transmitter. Countryman make a microphone for Sennheiser and a different one for Shure models.

Countryman H6   Check it out on Amazon here.   


Lapel Microphone

If you needed a Lapel Microphone my best suggestion in the Sennheiser EW 122 P . I strongly suggest getting the Wireless Handheld set first and then if you need to expand get a Lapel or Headset and Transmitter that matches the Receiver you already have.



Here’s a link to Amazon EW 122P

Big Budget

If you have the budget for it Sennheiser have a range just for presenters. It’s called Sennheiser Speechline and looks amazing.

        

Two Cheaper Options

Note – you can get cheaper and cheaper wireless microphones. A lot of them are developed for Karaoke Systems.  However you do get what you pay for. Saving up for a good one is highly advised.

As mentioned I have had great experiences with those two microphones mentioned at the start, the Shure and the Sennheiser, but there are several other options. Asking around my audio friends, they suggested these are also worth looking at if you are on a budget.

Audio-Technica System 10 ATW-1102     A bit cheaper than the Sennheiser Handheld, but they are a good brand.   Details Here

Innopow WM 333      OK, these are budget microphones, but they work quite well from what I’ve heard.

https://amzn.to/38I1wiP

Timothy Hyde

Widely acknowledged as one of Australia's busiest & best MC's and a global authority on the MC Industry, Timothy Hyde shares his expertise and insights into this fascinating Professional Speaking niche via this site and a dynamic YouTube channel. His best selling book The ExpertMC Toolkit and Resource Manual has helped thousands of people worldwide improve their Emcee skills and in many cases, start earning a living by taking on the role.

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