For years when doing seminars and training sessions, I’ve included a joke about wishing that a “Microphone Boot Camp” be required for CEOs, pastors, and anyone else who does public speaking. It wouldn’t have to be 13 weeks at Paris Island like the U.S. Marines, or even eight weeks at Lackland AFB as with the U.S. Air Force. Just two weeks!
If you’re like me and you’ve been to the AES convention, InfoComm show or any industry panel discussion or seminar, you might have wondered why – at an audio event – so few panelists seem to have any idea of decent mic technique. My wife has to keep her hand on my arm at corporate events, company holiday parties or anywhere that people are talking into microphones and doing a bad job of it. “It’s OK, hon, they aren’t professionals,” she says in a placating voice.
Meanwhile, someone in the back says “Turn it up! We can’t hear you!” Then someone does and ear-splitting feedback ensues. My teeth are flatter than they should be from being ground down a little bit every time that happens. I can feel a comforting pat on the arm from my wife even now… in spirit.
Right Off The Bus
If you’ve been to boot camp or seen it in the movies, you know the shock of arriving on the bus to the tarmac with all the other innocent souls aboard and then stepping off into… hell. Drill sergeants start yelling, insultingly, at people to line up, stand up straight, eyes straight forward, and so on. Anyone who laughs or mouths off is instantly descended upon by multiple “toughs” in crisp fatigues wearing Smokey the Bear hats with brims so flat they could be used to shave. The verbal abuse is epic!
Everyone quickly gets the idea that this is serious business and the tittering and grumbling stops. These first few minutes set the tone for the weeks ahead – little did many of them know what was truly in store – but they were starting to get the idea!
I recall a situation when I worked at Sennheiser where one of our printing vendors asked for “a microphone” for an event they were about to have, maybe a holiday party. I offered to loan one and said they could pick it up any time. When they arrived and saw the microphone in a box on the front desk, they asked, “Where’s the rest of it?”
I must have had a blank look on my face… “You know, the speakers, the mixer…” Um, well, that’s not what you asked for! It was a good lesson for me too, because I should have inquired further about what they were looking to do, exactly, and what gear, if any, they already had or might need.
But it was one of the moments I wanted them to be grilled by a drill instructor (DI) shouting, “You Make Me Believe In Reincarnation Because No One Could Become This Stupid In One Lifetime!”
So many audio problems could be solved by a DI yelling: “Do You Talk Out Of Your Belly Button? No?? Then Hold The Microphone Up To Your Mouth, You Plebe! And Don’t Stand In Front Of The Speakers! You’re About As Useless As A Truck Without Wheels!”
I’d like to think that after a couple of weeks of this, the “recruits” would have good speaker position awareness and much-improved microphone technique. Just think how much better their shareholders or congregations would understand them at the next annual meeting or church service!
And if one of the hard-working sound technicians, whether volunteer, staff, or a hired gun, asks the CEO or pastor an audio-related question or gives a suggestion with regard to how things might sound better, it should be taken seriously, even though the person asking is low on the totem pole. DI: “Strive To Be Brighter Than A Zero-Watt Bulb! I Have Pimples Older And Wiser Than You!!”
We sound techs may not be perfect or know everything, but when we ask questions or make suggestions, we have good reasons. Normally we have to be careful and diplomatic… but isn’t it fun to imagine a tough-as-nails DI carrying our message?
The Rules (Of Physics) Don’t Change
One thing about which public speakers should be yelled at is to “Speak According To The Acoustic Environment!” Clearly, a huge old cathedral with an RT60 of 2.3 seconds requires speaking at a very measured pace and with clear enunciation, while a small meeting room can have a much more conversational and fast-paced speaking style.
Also, “Don’t Whisper! Otherwise You’re About As Useless As An Ashtray On A Motorcycle!!” Let’s face it, excellent gain before feedback is only good up to the point where too much gain is added at the front end to compensate for quiet talking. I mean, who thought it was a good idea for such a weak-voiced person to stand up there and deliver this speech anyway? That question is probably above our pay grade…
Along these lines: “Don’t Wear Clanky Jewelry Like Dangly Wind-Chime Earrings Or Rattly Bracelets Or Clothes That Rustle A Lot – This Is Not Christmas Morning And You Are Not Wrapping Paper! You’re One Brain Cell Away From Being A Flip-Flop!!”
Oh, the things we want to say, am I right? Yet somehow, we usually maintain our decorum, behave 100 percent professionally, and just grin and bear it all. Something that happens often to people at the top of any profession is that they become insulated from “the truth” quite a bit.
Military generals, CEOs, church deacons and the like are surrounded by “yes people,” and yet these folks can appreciate frankness in the right moments. If we act like jerks with a chip on our collective shoulder, they’ll likely react negatively to what we say.
But if we approach our communication style like we do our craft of pro audio with confidence and competence, it comes across, too. People in charge usually take this in stride (but not always!) and will more often hear the content of your message when you deliver it in the right way. And remember, they aren’t telepathic either!
Now, “Drop And Give Me 20!”