I wish I was immune to doubt. If I state something with assurance, it is because I am sure. If I am mistaken, I am more than willing to accept my error and correct any problems that might have arisen. Doubt creeps in when conflict arises. If I am bucking popular opinion, even if I am sure of something, some doubt begins to gnaw at me. “Everyone else is so sure. Maybe I am wrong.”

Today I was thinking back to my days working public address (PA) systems. I never ran sound for bands or orchestras, but one and two person speaking engagements. The rooms varied from concert hall to outdoor venues. Some rooms had a built in system, in others, equipment would be brought in for the occasion. The same speakers were present for many events. Sometimes, we would do as many as three or four events in a week. For the most part, these events went well, but if I got any complaint, it was usually the same request, “Make it LOUDER!”

Facilitating that request should be pretty easy. Simply raise the volume on the board. Right?

There is one mitigating circumstance that sabotages any adjustment I could make: These speakers had no microphone control. They would turn their heads away from the microphone, stand two feet away, mumble, eat the microphone, etc… Yet, they would complain after. In fact, everyone would complain, co-workers, audience members, supervisors. Was I doing something wrong?

I knew that the speakers had enough power. I knew that I was using quality, tried and tested equipment. I knew that I had not accidentally turned something off. However, if so many people insist that I’m the problem, aren’t I?


Thank goodness for the Internet. I did a little Google search using “public”, “speaking”, and “microphone”. Just about every site, written by engineers and public speakers alike said the same thing:

1. Keep the microphone a few inches away. Some sites said 2-4, others 6-8. No one said one foot.
2. Keep the microphone in line with your mouth. Not to the left, or the right, but in line.
3. If there is feedback, get closer to the mic, not further away. It allows the engineer to lower the gain and reduce feedback.
4. Project. You don’t have to shout, but you are not having a conversation. You are addressing an audience.

I could add links, but won’t. If you’re interested, do a search on your own. I doubt you will find many sites that would not advocate these four rules. It’s possible, but the vast majority will echo these four sentiments.

Am I still sure that the problem was not me? Yup.

Anytime a professional speaker would appear, a politician, motivational speaker, or anyone used to speaking to large audience, there was never a single problem. They all utilized a little microphone control and projected their voices. Sure, some of them had naturally booming voices, but I could lower the gain for those presenters. I never had any issue with them not being heard or understood.

Full Disclosure: What not use a lavalier microphone? I’m not a huge fan of lavs since I worked with chronic mumblers and people that refused to project. Was their mumbling problem always their fault? No. Some people just have a heavy accent that does not make them easily understood. I’m not faulting them for that, but don’t expect a lav to work well if you swallow your consonants and want to hide the microphone under your tie or lapel for photographic purposes.

Maybe the problem was psychological, a form of mass hysteria. If everyone in an enclosed environment demands that something is true, does it take the form of fact in everyone’s mind? Everyone would insist that there should not be a problem with standing a foot away from the mic and off the to the right. It should still pick up the speaker, right? He’s nearby.

I have to admit. Doubt really did gnaw at me. Was I doing something wrong? Is the problem me? I looked for ways to overcome it through more advanced equipment, speaker placement, and equalization. If it keeps happening and everyone insists that it is my fault, isn’t it my fault?

Hell, unequivocal, no!

The funny part is, if someone from this old job reads this, they will probably come up for some reason why it is my fault. In spite of plenty of sources supporting my side, they will insist I am wrong. I guess it is good to be plagued by doubt, because if not, I would be just like them.