"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Microphone Manners: Loud & Clear Ways for Pros

As the microphone rests on the stand, waiting for you to grab it, confidence swells because you know the show will be successful.

Or will it be?

Before a single story is shared, the audience is keenly observant to your comfort level with the microphone. The people may not have a pad of paper to dock points on your stage presence yet judgments are made.

Storytellers tend to fall in one of three categories--

1. The “No-Mike-for-Me” Teller
Some storytellers avoid the microphone completely unless begged by the emcee or of the hard-of-hearing in the audience. These tellers strain their voices for 30 minutes or more assuming their vocal chords are powerful enough to reach 25 to 100-plus people. These tellers seem to be shouting their stories rather than telling their stories. Little do these tellers know that projected voices tend to make stories monotone; a whisper is almost shouted and a shout is practically the same volume as the narrator/character’s regular voice.

2. The Eardrum-Buster Teller
Then there are the storytellers who “eat” the microphone. They do not trust the device to pick up sound. The microphone is so close to their lips that unpleasant sounds are picked up such as dry mouth clicks and smacks to the extra “pah” on any words that start with the letter “p”. Audience members may be seen with cringed smiles as they attempt to ignore the technical difficulties.

3. The Smooth and Professional Teller
These are the storytellers who grab the microphone and, as they tell their stories, the microphone seems to disappear from the stage. The words are still being sent across the room so that all in attendance can hear, only there are not any technical distractions to take audience members out of the moment. If there are times of fuzziness or echoes in the sound—known as feedback—then these tellers acknowledge this problem to the audience, pause the story, and then continue the story when fixed. The audience then leaves the auditorium with respect for the teller’s stories and for the teller’s grace.

Obviously, a storyteller wants to be known as smooth and professional. Here are some “loud and clear” tips to achieve this status:

  • Request One or More Sound Checks
  • Discuss and Choose Microphone Options
  • Plan for the Worst and Dream for the Best

Request One or More Sound Checks
In society it is good manners to put out your hand to welcome another person. For microphones, the etiquette is no different. You need to put your hand out to the microphone and see if the two of you will work well as a team on performance day. If you rely on your own sound system rather than others, then this step is done before the purchase of equipment.

Arriving 45 minutes to an hour early to a performance gives time to play around with the sound. If a microphone needs to be exchanged for whatever reason, this may give enough time to make the switch. Ideally, you would have at least two sound checks with the first check a day or more before the performance and second check the day of the performance.

If I will perform at a nearby venue for the first time, I like to meet the sponsor a month or two before the performance day and check out the sound system. I can take notes as to the types of microphones available and determine if feedback will be a problem. For farther venues, I must rely on the sponsor’s opinion of the sound system.

When testing the microphone, some people are tempted to “tap, tap, tap” it. They may have seen other people—even professionals—do this technique but, of all things to do, tapping the microphone is the most damaging to the equipment. As you want to have your microphone in happy order as long as possible, then test the microphone by saying “1-2-3” or—better yet—sharing pieces of your story.

Discover how well the softest and the loudest parts of your story sound when using the microphone. Normally, the microphone is a good six to eight inches away from your mouth. For whispers you may need the microphone brought a couple inches closer while shouts may require to put the mike at arm’s length.

Discuss and Choose Microphone Options
Be aware of how you present a story to the audience when figuring out what type of microphone to use.

Questions on choosing a microphone:

1. Am I a stand-up or a sit-down storyteller? How much do I move my body while standing or sitting?

2. Do I prefer the use of two hands or could I still effectively tell the story with one hand?

3. Are there any other options of microphones in the first place?

Corded or Non-Corded Microphone with a Stand
This microphone could work for both the storyteller who plans to stay in one spot of the stage or for the storyteller who wants to move around.

Whether staying still or moving about, the best stand is the one that has two beams—the first is vertical from the stage while the second can be adjusted to dramatic angles. Make sure this second beam is always pointing up. The same rule applies to the microphone itself. Always aim the microphone up. For shorter people or sit-down tellers, sometimes the second beam and/or the microphone are mistakenly angled toward the floor. This gives a psychological feeling that the microphone is in control rather than the teller. The downward angle also upsets the acoustics in the room.

If you plan to stay in one area, then you will not need to hold the microphone so this frees both of your hands despite if you stand or sit.

I usually take the microphone off the stand so I can hold the microphone roughly six to eight inches from my face regardless if I turn my head to the right or to the left. Of course, holding the microphone limits me to one hand in telling the story. If I already know I will have a corded or non-corded mike, then I practice telling the stories with one hand.

For a corded microphone, I quietly unwrap its cord from the stand. I have seen other storytellers unwrap the cord from the stand while jumping into a story. This action is distracting. The audience will not mind waiting some seconds for you to be ready. The pause actually builds excitement and anticipation, which could only improve your reception with the audience.

Since I do not use the stand, the proper thing to do is to place the stand far enough behind me so I have room to move. When my story or program is done, I accept the applause for a moment, turn around, pick up the stand, and return it to its original place. As there may be another performer after me, this is my way of showing respect. Even if I was the sole performer, the emcee may return to the stage and need everything in order.

If body movement is really important to you as a storyteller, then you may prefer the lavaliere. This type clips to your shirt while the battery pack is often clipped to your belt, slacks, or skirt. If there is no where to hook the battery pack, then some storytellers bring a small bag that hangs diagonally from their shoulder. The bag is about the size of a pocket and usually matches the storyteller’s outfit.

Lavalieres are not recommended if you wear a low-cut blouse or shirt as the microphone is best situated close to the bottom of your neck. Some storytellers wear vests, sweaters or even suit coats, and so clip the lavaliere to the side. Later these tellers wonder why the sound system was so bad. Unless you always speak on the sides of your mouth, center the microphone.

Please note that while you have both hands for performing, you must still be aware at your head’s direction in comparison to the microphone. You may need to turn your whole body if you want to face the right or left. If you only turn your head to the right, then your storytelling will suddenly get soft (unless this is your intention). This does not mean you have to dip your chin. If someone is over the amplification system, then that person may be able to adjust the power.

Plan for the Worst and Dream for the Best
You may adjust the microphone perfectly and still there are problems. The batteries could run out or the feedback could be impossible to fix. Bringing extra batteries could fix the first problem, but what of the second?

While telling a story, sometimes it is easier for us to “plow through” when we have technical difficulties. We pretend the problem is not there. We may be able to ignore, but our audience often cannot. Feel free to pause when there is feedback. You may even address from the stage to the sponsor or to the sound tech guys to fix the problem for you. It may be a few minutes before everything is in order, but your audience will thank you.

To prepare yourself for these situations, you could practice your stories and have a friend make “crrrrr” sounds as if a microphone went crazy. Then you can practice pausing and addressing the imaginary sound tech guys.

The night before I tell, I like to visualize the perfect storytelling concert. Part of the dream includes how I handle the microphone with ease.

Perhaps the next time you see a “No-Mike-for-Me” teller or a Eardrum Buster teller, you can shake your head, tap them on the shoulder, and guide them to be smooth and professional--like you.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Storyteller's New Year: Goals to Celebrate

If you need an excuse to aim for the stars as a storyteller, then now is the time. It doesn’t have to be January 1st. Your goals are waiting for you to pursue them.

Some Storyteller Goal Categories:

  • Artistic
  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Technology

Please feel free to explore other categories or questions as you progress in your storytelling. Share any goals you have as this makes it more likely for your goals to be accomplished.


Your friend--the right side of the brain--will enjoy these goals. Research, repertoire, and practicing of stories are a few in this realm.

National storyteller Elizabeth Ellis is quick to say that most storytellers prefer to only set goals in this category, especially as it is considered the “fun” side of the craft. Of course, this could also explain why the term “starving artist” came about as the business, marketing, and technology sides are ignored.

List how many new stories you performed in the past year. How many new stories will you add to your repertoire?

You may have those stories that you tell over and over again, but if you do not have any new stories ready for the stage by the end of the year, then you are missing opportunities.

Last year I had a goal to create at least one new story every month. As I went to monthly storytelling guild meetings, that gave me deadlines to accomplish this goal. Now I go to two different monthly guild meetings so I want to have at least two new stories every month.

Often I have performances that request themes. One time I was asked to share two hours of Scandinavian stories (four 30-minute sessions with no repeats). At the time of the request, I had about 30 minutes worth of stories that fell in that category. After much research, I gained at least 2 ½ hours worth of Scandinavian stories. I certainly met my monthly goal due to that gig.

How much time will you dedicate to work on new material? Existing repertoire?

National storyteller Bill Harley dedicates at least one hour every day to creating stories. He admitted that there are days he does not feel like doing it, but he pushes through. Other days he goes for hours developing material. Depending on his schedule, he has had late nights where the temptation would be to go to bed and make up the hour in the morning. Instead, he stays up—even if it is past 1:00am—to meet his goal. That is commitment.

I am not to that level yet. I have decided that 30 minutes a day for six days of the week will be my step in the right direction.

Perhaps you do not feel you have the time to spare. Some people solve this problem by waking up 30 minutes or so earlier than normal.


Here is where you admit to yourself that a professional storyteller is also a business owner. You determine your hours and what days you can take off. You also determine how successful you will be.

Do you have some sort of business plan in place?

A business plan often merges with other important documents such as a mission statement, vision statement, and artistic mission statement. If you are expecting to be paid as a storyteller, then you need to realize that these plans give you the foundation to base other goals.

How many thank you cards did you send last year? What is your goal for this year?

This is hard-core office work since thank you cards involve writing and/or typing, stuffing envelopes, sticking on stamps, and mailing. If these tasks sound scary, then perhaps you want to hire a neighbor kid to do these things.

I prefer to type my cards as I write about a page worth of memories to my sponsors. I always share specific instances. By the time the thank you letter is done, I have a one-page storytelling journal entry. Two important things happen as a result: you have a record for your business and your sponsors appreciate and remember you more often.


Storytellers need to be “loud” on and off the stage. A microphone is often held with ease though many storytellers are slow to spread the word about them. I am one of those strange storytellers that love the artistic and the marketing side.

How many venues do you wish to perform at for the year?

I am always honored to perform at the same venues as the year before. I also like to challenge myself and put a number of new venues I would like to perform at for the current year.

How many referrals did you get last year? How many do you wish to have this year?

One of the first things I ask a person is where did they hear about me. I want to know if there is a specific person to thank.

A sponsor receives a file from me with my resume and other materials including at least 10 business cards so they can feel free to give them to others. For the person who refers me to others I give discounts for future performances.


Using technological tools could build credibility and confidence for how others look at you the storyteller. Embrace the possibilities.

How is your presence on the Internet? How can you have more of a presence?

One way to determine your presence is to go to a search engine—like Google—and type in your name. My three most common searches are “Rachel Hedman”, “Utah storyteller” and “Utah storytelling”. The listing for my website and my blog usually top the search. Every so often I find comments or references about me from others. The more links connected to you, the more likely a sponsor can find and hire you.

I have also set up a Google News search so anytime my name is in the online media—newspaper, magazine, newsletter—I am sent a notification. Certain venues are wonderful at submitting your name and even a link to your website on their own website. Be willing to ask if this is possible. They will most likely say yes.

If you do not have a website for others to link to, then create your own blog. Usually you can set one up for free—like through blogger.com. Then you can give this web address to venues to hire you as well as print it on your business cards.

List any online directories/calendars or social networks you participate in. List any online directories/calendars or social networks you wish to join by the end of this year.

Two specific storytelling directories are a must for storytellers: Storyteller.net and National Storytelling Network.

Other places to consider: Chambers of Commerce, Art Councils, Storytelling Guilds, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

I recently joined “Networking in Utah” as well as Facebook. Both of these places allow me to list any events that I am participating in. This is a great way to advertise to others “hey, I could tell for you, too.”

Hopefully you have been inspired to improve as a storyteller in at least one way. Who knows? This could be your best year yet!

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair for Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799