Use the microphone

Microphones are important.

Not everyone can hear and understand lectures without amplification. Microphones and sound systems allow many people to listen to talks they would otherwise be unable to understand.

For some reason, many people who have loud voices try to avoid using the microphones. They will say that their ability to project makes the microphone unnecessary. Often, they refuse to use the microphone, and many members of the audience can’t hear what they are saying.

Do not be that guy. The sound system is there for a reason. The event organizers decided that it was needed in order to make the lecture accessible to others. Don’t unilaterally undo that. Use the microphone, unless you’ve agreed in advance on an alternative way to make the lecture accessible.

Some concrete reasons that people who refuse to use microphones make their talks inaccessible:

  • No matter how loud your voice is, it only comes from one point in the room. Speakers can distribute it and make it more understandable in other parts of the room
  • Loop systems project sounds from the microphone into people’s hearing aides, and they only work if you speak into the microphone. No matter how good you are at projecting, people who need the sound to be right by their ear will not be able to understand you if you don’t use the microphone.
  • Your voice may not be as loud as you think it is; that’s hard to judge from the inside, and it’s very easy to overestimate your skill at projecting.

In particular, do not start your talk without a microphone and ask if everyone can hear you:

  • People who can’t hear you without the microphone probably can’t hear you and react quickly when you ask a question like that.
  • Asking if everyone can hear you as a way to check whether you need a microphone is like saying “raise your hand if you don’t understand English”. It’s not going to get you a useful response
  • It’s also really uncomfortable to contradict a speaker at the beginning of their talk. No one is likely to want to say “actually, no, I can’t hear you and you need to use the microphone even though you obviously don’t want to”.
  • Similarly, many people with disabilities don’t like drawing attention to their access needs. If you refuse to use a microphone, you’re effectively saying that some people have to choose between their right to access your lecture and their right to privacy. Don’t do that to people.
  • Your audience probably contains people who need you to use the microphone.
  • That’s why it’s there.
  • Use the microphone.

If there is a good reason that using a microphone is a problem for you, talk to the organizers ahead of time. Sometimes there are competing access needs, and that’s not your fault. People who have an access need that makes microphone use complicated or impossible also have the right to speak publicly. (Eg: If you can’t hold a microphone; it hurts to hold it; it makes you unable to speak coherently; etc) It’s just not ok to decide to ignore other people’s access needs on the spur of the moment. It’s important to either work out another solution with the organizers (eg: maybe a wireless clip-on microphone would work?), or else warn people ahead of time so that people won’t come to a lecture that they won’t be able to understand.

If you are an event organizer – be aware that some speakers will probably try to refuse to use the microphone. It’s important to insist that they use it anyway. It helps to have an explicit microphone policy and explain it to speakers, but some people will still probably try to give their talks without microphones. It’s possible, and important, to be firm about this and insist that everyone use the microphone unless they’ve made an alternative arrangement ahead of time.

Short version: Microphones are important even if you have a loud voice and know how to project. If you refuse to use the microphone, it makes the talk inaccessible to some people who want to listen to you. Asking a room full of people if everyone can hear you without the microphone doesn’t solve this problem. (If you have an access need that complicates microphone use, it’s important to either find a solution or warn people that a microphone will not be used. This should not be decided on the spur of the moment.) If you’re running an event, it’s important to be assertive about insisting that speakers use the microphone.