Popping!

Yesterday I explained and enlarged upon my impatience with the practice of reading a speech from a script. I also told how there would be more examples in the next couple of weeks of speakers who would illustrate how much better they performed when shooting from the hip.

Today I want to focus on another matter that seems to have trended in this blog – and is destined to trend some more. I hate microphone popping. This is the name given to the little explosive sounds made by your percussive consonants – particularly ‘P’s – if you speak too directly into the microphone.

I’ve been trying to cast my mind back more than two decades to the days before I was trained for working on radio. One of the key things we were taught was how to prevent popping. I undoubtedly then became more sensitised to the sound; but how much did I mind it before?  I don’t remember. The reason this concerns me is that it may be that most people never consciously notice popping – till a busybody like me comes along, points it out, and ruins everything for them.

Nevertheless, even if they do not consciously pick it up, their subconscious will register whether one speaker just makes a more pleasant sound than another. My trainees quickly pick up on my argument that it is as easy to do things right as wrong; and because many of them are senior business people who are delivering presentations whose success or failure could make the difference of huge amounts of money, the few percentage points either way, made by ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, can  be pretty critical.

The key to correct microphone technique is not to speak into a microphone, but to speak across it – or at least anywhere into its arc of sensitivity except into the thing itself. It’s the sudden assault of a column of your breath that makes the pop. Don’t do what Boris did in that example speech covered last week. The stereo mics had been aimed at his eyes – which should have been fine – but at the beginning of the speech he wrenched them down to point at his mouth. Aaagh! Wicked man!

You’ve seen microphones with sponge balls on them. That sponge is designed to make the mic more forgiving of bad technique than it would be otherwise. But it won’t forgive the worst; and anyway why not develop habits that give it nothing to forgive? Right is as easy as wrong.

If you find yourself in a TV studio, and a sound engineer has clipped a lapel microphone on you, microphone technique no longer applies: you have no choice but to put yourself in that engineer’s hands. Likewise if they equip you with an ear-set – one of those things that look as if you have a boil on your cheek. You will be asked to say something for a level check. The only thing you have to worry about is that the volume you use for that level check is near enough the same as you use when on air. Seems simple, but I could tell you stories…!

At any rate you should stand by for a severe rant coming soon in this blog, because someone who used to be the British Prime Minister, speaking at a conference, is wearing a lapel mic. He is not popping, but badly ‘splashing’. That is another horror, wherein sibilant consonants – particularly ‘S’ – cause distortion in the sound system. As I stated earlier, with a lapel mic you are in the hands of the sound engineer who, in that case, should have been put out of our misery.

As you might have gathered, we have fun and games coming soon!  I hope you find them entertaining and helpful.

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