10 January 2013

The Zen of Presentations, Part 58: “Can you hear me?”

“Can you hear me in the back?”

If you’re asking because you want to know if you need to use the microphone, forget about the audience’s response. Use the microphone, even if the audience says they can hear you.

I heard this query at the SICB meeting earlier this week. This conference held in a hotel, as many conferences are. There are many rooms packed snugly next to each other. The walls are often not so much “walls” as temporary, movable room dividers. The sound isolation is not good.

There are people in the room on the left. There are people in the room on the right. There are people outside. And the people outside may be opening and closing the door as they hop from session to session. And it can get particularly noisy when people leave the room while you’re trying to field a question from the audience.

The combination of thin walls and a busy environment means that the noise level in the room can fluctuate wildly over the course of just a few minutes. If you ask, “Can you hear me in the back?” and people say “Yes” right now, that doesn’t mean they’ll answer “Yes” a few minutes from now. It’s easier to pick up a microphone, or position yourself to use one, at the start rather than trying to remember to switch to it halfway through, or at the end of your presentation.

That you are even asking the question means that you recognize, at some level, that this is a borderline environment for making yourself heard. So just use the mic already.

Photo by ganatronic on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

Dr. Bodwin said...

While I tend to agree that the speaker should use the microphone in general, I think there's also a lesson for the audience here. I've always wanted a speaker to say "Can you hear me in the back? No? Then why don't you move up to an open seat in the 4 empty rows at the front of the room rather than cluster in the last row as if I'm going to be juggling deadly vipers and hungry lions as part of my presentation?"
Of course, if it's a biology seminar, the speaker just MIGHT be juggling deadly vipers and hungry lions... ;)