Before we get into announcing, you need to be comfortable with the microphone. Since there are many kinds of microphones, such as boom, lavaliere, wireless, wired, stage, chorus and more, we’re going to only focus on wireless and wired handheld microphones. You may also be in a situation in which you will have a headset microphone which frees your hands, however the techniques here will give you the basics on how to address the handheld microphone.
The announcer has the ultimate control of a crowd during any given game and it all comes to how the announcer speaks on the microphone. Knowing how to properly speak on the microphone is the most important thing for a new announcer, and even some veteran announcers, to learn. Your voice will not determine the outcome of the game, but can have an effect on it. If you read that last sentence and said to yourself, “I’m not there to have an effect on the game, I’m there to announce,” you need to know that you can’t do both.
The announcer does have an effect on the game, whether or not it was intended. A positive announcer can set an atmosphere of fun, excitement and entertainment which then extends to the fans and participants. A bored or negative announcer can have the opposite effect, making the game not as much fun to play. It’s a psychological element of sport that is hard to quantify, but know that if the event has an announcer, that announcer is part of the game.
The first time you pick up a microphone with unfamiliar settings, you should perform a simple sound check. Speak clearly into the microphone and say, “Mic check, 1, 2,” will give you a good idea of the volume and how it sounds, but you need to make sure you’re not going to pop your “p’s” or thunder your “t’s”. To get a good idea of how you will sound, have a prepared announcement ready to perform when you’re ready. The ideal time to perform a sound check is before people start entering the facility though if this isn’t possible, read a sponsor read, welcome announcement or another announcement and set your levels from there. It may not be the most professional, but if you start your volume low and raise as necessary, you’ll be able to do you sound check while also being informative.
When you have the time to perform a proper sound check, say the following sentence, “Popcorn is proudly served at the Terrace property.”
In this sentence, you will have four chances to check your “p’s” (popcorn, proudly, and twice in property) and two to check your “t’s” (terrace and property). Remember to pronounce your t’s in the final word, it’s not prop-er-dee. This is called lazy mouth and is heard easily over the sound system so be careful to pronounce and enunciate every syllable and letter.
A sign that you need to adjust the way you speak into the microphone is if you are popping or thundering. One simple solution is to back away from the microphone however you may lose sound quality based on the design of the microphone. By simply turning the microphone to a 30-45 degree angle in relation to your mouth, you will now be talking across the windscreen of the microphone, rather than directly into the windscreen and diaphragm. Doing this will conquer the popping problem and also allow you some leeway if you get too close to the microphone. Most common P. A. system microphones are cardioid or unidirectional and are meant to grab sound from in front of the microphone so as long as you are speaking across the microphone, your voice will be heard.
Speaking too close to the microphone is a common problem of a lot of people when announcing. Some feel you have to have it right on your lips, but this can cause problems with clarity. There are some announcers who almost swallow the microphone every time they speak or they “cup” the microphone like a rapper. Almost any sound technician will tell you that this makes it very difficult to make the person speaking sound clear.
A good rule of thumb on most microphones is to hold out your thumb & pinky and place the hand between the mic and your mouth. This is good for just about any studio microphone but may not have the best effect for a live microphone. If you’re not getting the best sound quality, try holding your index finger and your pinky straight up (like a baseball player would show the number two) and use that as your guide.
You should be able to speak clearly into the microphone from this distance without popping your p’s, however you may still want to angle the microphone 45 degrees to give yourself a little extra insurance.
The other extreme of speaking too close to the microphone is holding the microphone too far away. This happens when people are nervous and may have never spoken into a microphone. The first time you hear your voice coming at you can be a little intimidating and the speaker may think they are too close, when in fact they are right on but pull the microphone away anyway. This leads to people shouting “speak up” or “louder” when all you need to do is move the microphone closer to your mouth or place it where your speech will be heard. It is amazing the number of people who hold the microphone at their belt while speaking quietly into their chest. The microphone will get some of what it being said, just not all.
If you’re still having problems being heard or with feedback coming through because your level is too high, you will want to get closer until the problem goes away. A microphone will pick up just about any signal around it so if you have to crank the microphone to the point you get feedback, or you hear a little feedback when announcing, then lower the level and get closer to the microphone. Don’t forget to angle the microphone at 45 degrees.
The same rules from above apply when using a mic stand, speak at an angle and from a distance. The microphone stand will keep the microphone stationary and prevent you from accidentally getting too close or far away.
When you see microphones set up on a stage for a speaker, or even at a concert, the majority are on a stand, with the microphone sitting upward at an angle. Whether you’re using a desk mic stand or a full stand, keep the angles, otherwise you’ll be pounding the mic with your voice.
Using a mic stand also allows you to use both of your hands. There are still many experienced announcers who still like to hold the microphone or have one of their hands occupied by what is known as a cough drop. A cough drop is a switch that allows you to briefly turn the mic off, or in some cases, on. You have to look at your set-up to determine if the stand might be getting in the way if it is sitting on the desk.
A floor stand or a stand that clips to your table, desk or any other object that would allow you to clip a microphone stand (usually with a C-clamp) is an alternative should you need more desk space. If you choose a floor stand, consider a boom stand like some piano players use. This allows you to use the stand, the mic will come in front of your face without taking space on the desk.
The microphone can be very intimidating. It amplifies everything that comes out of your mouth, from the volume, to the words, to even your feelings. It’s hard to hide your true energy from a microphone.
If you’re bored, it is going to be expressed over the P. A. system no matter how hard you try to sound interested. That feeling will then hit the fans and their enjoyment level will decrease.
If you’re afraid of the microphone or nervous, that too will come out over the P. A. system. There are ways to battle these fears and help you overcome the nervousness. One of those is to practice at home if you have the ability. Since most people don’t have a P. A. system lying around, or even a microphone they can plug into an amplification system, you’re left having to arrive on site early to try out the sound system.
Since you’re nervous, you probably won’t know what to say. Simply read your welcome announcement two or three times to get a feeling for how you are going to sound. Get comfortable and then try to read a few names off the rosters and then announce a couple of sponsor announcements. The key here is to get used to hearing yourself on the sound system so it becomes comfortable to you.
Once you’ve practiced a few times, you’ll feel yourself get a little more comfortable with hearing your own voice with your ears, instead of inside your own head. And be prepared, because the voice you hear coming out over the P. A. system will be different than the one you’re used to hearing. It’s not uncommon to hear a new P. A. announcer say, “Do I really sound like that?”
After a few games of arriving early to practice on the sound system, you’ll feel more and more confident in your abilities and the fewer practice sessions you’ll need. The next thing you can do is to record yourself during your practice sessions and play them back either over the sound system or to yourself. With all the options available to record these days from smartphones, computers, tablets and more, this is a much easier task than it used to be.
Sit down and really listen to yourself from your recordings. Ask yourself if you sound bored, disinterested, over-the-top, confident, scared, upset, and tired among other emotions. It is possible and very much encouraged to sound confident, energetic and happy without screaming into the microphone. The key here is to be energetic. Sounding monotone will not help keep your fans interested, but you also don’t want to sound like a used-car salesman on TV.
Listen to your tempo and pace and ask yourself these questions.
Those are just six out of the countless number of questions you can ask yourself when announcing. Just remember to ask yourself and not question your abilities. Answering these questions truthfully will only make you a better announcer. Having others around you who will answer these questions honestly will also make you a better announcer. If all people ever do is tell you that you do a good job but can’t pinpoint anything in particular, they may just feel the need to be polite.
This is the biggest problem P. A. announcers have. Your cadence when you speak in a conversation is too fast for a sound system, you need to slow your tempo and speed down to the point that the reverb and echo from the sound system don’t jumble what you are trying to say. Speaking quickly can make it to where nobody can clearly understand what you are saying, but going too slow sounds like you’re having trouble with your speech.
One of the best ways to get an idea of the pace to speak on a microphone is to take the Bee Gee’s song “Stayin’ Alive” and speak to that tempo and pace. It gives you a good rhythm to work with and will keep you moving along without going too fast or too slow.
Once you find the right cadence, practice it. Keep in mind, however, that if you practice at a baseball field and are called into action at the football field or another facility, that the sound system may be different. The ability to adapt is important and will make you a better announcer.
Barely anybody speaks in such a way that every word sounds the same coming out of their mouth. You use inflection in basic everyday speech to emphasize certain points and it easily translates to announcing as well. Say the following sentence,
“Your attention please. If you’re the owner or driver of a car with Virginia license plate, ADL-591, you have been voted the dirtiest car in the parking lot.”
With little to no inflection, this potentially funny promotion can be missed. Inflect the words attention, owner, driver, and dirtiest car and you just changed it to grabbing everyone’s attention, causing concern it might be something fans need to hear, then telling that owner or driver that their car is filthy, you just made the promotion. Make sure you inflect the important words in your announcements, use a highlighter or underline them during your pre-game preparation.
Inflection is very important in the above example because this kind of promotion is done in all kinds of settings. Some announcers handle this well, others not that well. Some make it funny, others barely get a laugh and it all has to do with the delivery. This is true with any other announcement. Even a simple “now batting” announcement can be made to sound different depending on where you inflect your voice.
“The second baseman, number 4, Stan Helms.” Don’t inflect any words when saying it.
Now, inflect second to hear how different it sounds.
Now, inflect second and four to hear the difference.
Last, inflect second, four, Stan and Helms and you have a completely different sounding announcement than without inflection at all. You are giving importance to the position, the number and name in the last example.
This is a big problem among a lot of newer announcers, especially those who are trying to inflect enthusiasm into a situation and wind up sounding like they are going up-and-down a hill, kind of like a siren. It sounds something like, “Basket by Steeee-VENNNNNNNN HOOOOOOOOOLE-commmmmmb.”
What happens here is you start slurring your words and it makes it hard to understand what you’re saying. The home team fans may know, but others may not. Deliver your player announcements in more of a punching manner, don’t try to add letters or even syllables, just announce the player’s name the way it is supposed to be but do it with true enthusiasm. Slurring only sounds like faked enthusiasm and is very apparent on a microphone.
This is not to say you won’t hold a note on a player’s name for a big play, that’s part of allowing your enthusiasm to come out. Make sure you have a good grasp on your enthusiasm because you don’t want to get to the point of screaming or yelling into the microphone. The announcer is to display a certain amount of decorum and to cheerlead without actually cheerleading. Some will tell you the announcer is not to do the above, but in actuality, that’s what the announcer does.
It’s hard to be happy for someone scoring their 1,000th point without sounding enthusiastic. If you have a player making their only appearance of the season in the last game with a minute left, you’re going to give a little more enthusiasm for that player and in turn, the crowd will cheer a little louder. Did you prompt them to cheer? Yes you did by announcing the player’s name. This is what is meant by cheerlead without cheerleading.
Earlier in this chapter, the issue of feedback was addressed. Feedback is when the microphone is able to “hear” the speakers. If your speakers are too loud and pointed at your announcing position, there is a good possibility of feedback. The same thing can happen if you step directly in front of a speaker and announce.
Feedback can damage not only the equipment, but the hearing of those around. Feedback can come at all levels, from low to high, so be cautious. Most of the larger sound systems have the means of filtering out frequencies to avoid feedback but don’t trust that it’s there. You can sometimes hear feedback before it happens and if you do, lower your levels. If you have a mixer that has a “gain” or “trim” knob, adjust that first.
The ability to be flexible is very important for an announcer. Some would say high school announcers don’t go through the same thing that major professional announcers do. Each game is different and presents its own challenges. You will have people dropping P. A. announcements at the last second, changing wording before you get a chance to read it, or have you make something up right on the spot.
Knowing that something might come up will help you when it does. You won’t be as surprised and find yourself better prepared the handle the situation. You never know when the person in charge will call you on the phone or send a message to you to welcome a special guest or a car left their lights on. It’s happened at kids games all the way up to major professional championship games. While it’s great to be prepared and have everything in front of you, not everything can be scripted completely and the announcer needs to be flexible, rolling with the punches as they come.