A comment about a question

How often have you been at an event where someone from the audience wants to ask a question and insists that they don’t need a microphone because they have a loud voice – only to be reminded that they still require one. Well, I’m at a national conference and I have a question (not a comment). It’s concise, should take a few seconds to say, and hopefully open enough that anyone in the panel can pick it up. Fortunately, once upon a time I took a course on live sound engineering, so I understand how you’re supposed to hold a mic. I’ll make this brief with no fuss.

A couple of mics are passed around the audience. Someone else asks a question before me. After a brief wait, it’s my turn. I hold the microphone as I have learned you should, the correct distance from my mouth and pointing towards it. I begin to speak.

What I hadn’t considered was that I was sitting near the back of a large hall, and the PA system speakers were positioned at the front. My mic technique had optimised the volume of my speech, which I heard back after a short and reverberated delay. This booming, reverberated clone of me made it difficult to concentrate. Additionally, it heightened my awareness of the Julian Clary dimension to my voice, triggering thoughts about cisgendered and heterosexual (cishet) norms of professionalism and which types of voices tend to be taken seriously. I felt that mine had squarely landed on the not-seriously end of the spectrum. All of these thoughts were happening at once; I was only about a sentence in.

So, I tried to adjust the volume by holding the microphone further from my mouth, then a little closer, and then further again. I noticed people dotted around the room, whom I’d been speaking to earlier over coffee, had turned to listen. The panel appeared to be straining to hear me. One panel member asked me to repeat the question, which, by then, I had reduced to a short sentence – simply wanting the moment to be over. That panel member gave a good answer. Another asked, “Can we just take another question, please?”

I’ve recounted this experience in various ways, sometimes aiming for a giggle (taking poetic license with the Clary elements and in-out mic adjustments). Other times, focusing more on the frustrations of dominant professional norms. And yet, I don’t have a conclusion. I’d be eager to hear your thoughts.