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Did You Just Refuse the Microphone?

You’re about to speak to a group and you’re offered a microphone.

Strangely, many people politely decline such a thoughtful offer – a reflex response, without giving the question much thought: “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine – thanks!” But chances are they won’t be fine. So in your case I hope you’ll reply very differently.

Of course we’re talking a microphone here, and whether you decline or accept any offer might depend what it is you’re being offered. If it’s a ride when you prefer to walk, or a cake or milkshake when you’re watching your diet then declining is understandable. But if it’s a jacket and you’re inside and about to go outside, wouldn’t you perhaps at least give some thought to the weather conditions before declining? If you decline the jacket and then it gets cold when you’re outside, well – the jacket’s now inside, you’re out and going to stay cold.

The kind offer of a microphone should usually be accepted.

This brings us back to being offered a microphone. If you’re mouthing off about someone else’s private business, then of course you should take the hint, politely decline and put a cork in it. But if you’re about to give a speech or MC an awards function then overriding a natural tendency to decline could be achieved by replying with a “buying time” question like this:

“Thanks for asking. Why do you feel I’ll need one?” Not surprisingly, the person is quite likely to offer a sound reason why they feel a mic may be of benefit to you (did you read what I did there?). The chances are quite good they may be right, since they may have given it some thought before asking you.

The first consideration is – who is offering it to you? If it’s a seasoned speaker/MC, a sound technician or someone else who should know what they’re talking about, it may be a good idea to say yes just in case you later need to change your mind (as in the case of the jacket earlier).

The second consideration is why are they offering it to you? Maybe it’s a big room or a large audience is expected. Perhaps you have a little voice or they can detect you’re nervous. Maybe some background noise is expected or there is sporadic outside noise. Whatever the reason accepting allows you the option of putting the microphone down later if you find you don’t need it. Say no and you could find yourself left without an option if required later.

On two occasions in a fortnight I attended events where I offered speakers a microphone. Everyone gave the same answer – “no thanks, I’ll be fine.” On both occasions they were not. In the first case it was an awards function at a restaurant. The MC did not have a very strong voice, nor did any of those delivering acceptance speeches.

Should you accept or decline?

There was considerable background noise. The speakers had no option but to shout and the people from the middle to the back of the room heard very little of the content. In the second case it was a conference with 60 delegates. I was the final speaker, and the only one using a microphone. Instead of straining my voice like the other speakers had done before me, I was able to speak in my normal voice with intonation and expression. No guessing who got the most positive response and the best ratings.

So if you are offered a microphone, the best answer to give is “Yes, thank you very much. It’s very kind of you to offer!” They may know something you don’t. And besides, microphones have an on/off switch. If you don’t need it, switch it off and put it down. If it’s a headset mic, it can be removed without too much trouble, or a simply request the technician to switch it off for you.

Finally, if you speak to audiences frequently then invest in your own high quality microphone. I’ve never been able to understand how someone can call themselves a professional speaker and not have at least one decent mic. It’s as important to a speaker as a good pair of running shoes is to a marathoner!

Paul du Toit, Certified Speaking Professional & Presentation Skills Coach.

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