Which microphone should you use?

There are few different types of microphone available for conference use - this is when we use them and why...

1. Tie Clip

Intended to clip onto a tie or lapel. It's a small microphone which has a wire to a transmitter pack, which can be clipped to a belt or placed in a pocket - as long as the transmitter aerial is outside. We usually hide the wire inside clothes. For ladies in dresses, the pack can be taped to the base of the back, clipped to the bra strap or worn on a temporary strap. Sometimes we will use two clip mics, one on each side if the presenter will face both ways during the presentation i.e. on a panel.

Top tips - avoid polyester ties / jackets because they cause an uncomfortable scratching noise. Should be clipped on the side the presenter is likely to face most - usually the direction of the screen.

When to use - this is our microphone of choice - it provides a good compromise between sensitivity, quality and freedom for the presenter.

2. Head Set

Increasingly seen as an alternative to the tie clip mic, the headset mic provides a small stalk with mic head close to the mouth, attached to a small wire frame which sits across the ears and around the back of the head. Not very comfortable to wear and not a great look (unless you are a pop star). Sound engineers favour them because they provide very good sound levels (because the mic itself is much closer to the mouth).

Top tips - men should shave first to avoid the brushing sound of stubble against the mic. Avoid banging the mic with your hand when touching your face.

When to use - we only use them when we need to separate the presenter from the environment or the audience noise e.g. during award presentations or comedians.

3. Hand Held

The singers microphone. Much better sound quality from a much larger microphone pick up, which makes it ideal for singing and speeches, particularly where the environment is very noisy (i.e. at a dinner or stadium event).

Top tips - to get the benefit of the sensitivity, keep the top of the mic close to the mouth (10cm / 4 inches) but not touching. Always have one available for unscheduled announcements.

When to use - as a mic for audience questions or for a host at dinner.

4. CatchBox / Soft Microphones

There are a few different manufacturers of throwable mics, where the mic is embedded in a sponge case and can be thrown around the audience. The most sophisticated will switch off the mic automatically when in the air.

Top tips - they still need to be held up to the mouth (within 15cm / 6 inches). Invite people to pass them on to each other.

When to use - a brilliant Q&A solution


5. Device Microphone - IML Connector

It is possible to put a microphone into the hands of every attendee using the IML Connector and some iPad / iPhone / Android apps. The IML Connector is primarily an audience voting / response / text device but has a lapel mic quality microphone which can be enabled by the operator or selected by the participant when invited.

Top tips - do a demonstration to clearly show how and when to activate the mic.

When to use - ideal for in depth feedback from workgroups and breakout sessions.

6. Gooseneck Microphone

A high quality microphone either attached to a lectern or on a floor stand - sometimes seen at award ceremonies (where celebrities lean in to speak to it like a hand held mic). Intended to be spoken or sung to at a range of 30cm / 12 inches or more. 

Top Tips - stay back and speak to the 5th row of the audience (project your voice) for best results.

When to use - useful for presentations, like awards, with too many speakers for every one to have a dedicated microphone.

7. Push Button Microphone

There are different styles, some looking like conference speaker phones and others like the gooseneck - always with a button to make the mic live. Common on panels, in tribunals and with audience debates.

Top Tips - Make the rules clear for when people can press their button to avoid frustration.

When to use - we try to avoid these, there are better solutions available!

8. Radio or wired options

The tie clip, hand held, gooseneck and push button are all available as wired mics - which means they are connected directly to the sound desk via a cable. This removes risk of wireless failure, but severely limits mobility. We prefer fixed mics (gooseneck) to be wired. 

Radio mics use dedicated radio frequencies to transmit the data from the mic pack to a receiver, usually in the same room. There are a variety of frequencies used but sound engineers take great care to ensure that their own mics all have their own frequency and that the venue or other events nearby are not using the same frequencies. Some cheaper radio mics (often imported) can operate in the wrong frequency range, adding the risk of being received by a nearby taxi company.

Top Tips - we always change the batteries in the pack before every session.

When NOT to use - If you are presenting very confidential information in a closed session, beware of the security risk of radio mics - other people can tune into and record the same frequencies. If in doubt, use a wired mic.

9. Finally, that horrible screeching sound!

When you hear that horrible high pitched screech that tells you something is wrong - or like a whale in pain - that is the sound you get when a microphone is picking up the sound of itself through the speakers, creating a loop. It mostly happens when the presenter takes the mic in front of the speakers or directly in front of the speakers. It is worse with tie clip mics because the sensitivity is turned up higher.

So that's a brief summary of the different types of conference mics available and when we recommend using them - obviously we also use professional sound technicians and engineers to get the best sound possible.

Joanne Madeley