[Hamburg, 29 September 2011]
Every now and then conference speakers want to avoid using a microphone; they dislike the introduction of technology into the speaker/audience relation, perhaps, and sometimes they are so confident of their ability to be heard in the room that any suggestion that they might use a mike is almost an affront to their lung power. (Are these last class of speaker always male? Well, usually, I think.)
I have been told on good authority that users of hearing aids benefit a good deal from amplification of the speaker’s voice; that’s a good reason to use the microphone.
But sitting here listening to a very interesting speaker who is completely ignoring the microphone, I am reminded of a different reason: for purposes of speaker amplification, non-native speakers are effectively hard of hearing. When the speaker strays into range of the podium’s microphone and happens to be facing the audience, I can understand every word he says; when he faces away from the audience or wanders over to the side of the room, I am missing at least every fifth word, which makes the talk into a kind of aural cloze test. That’s OK for me (I pass the test, more or less, though I missed that nice joke everyone else laughed at). But for my neighbor (for whom German is not a second but a fourth or fifth language), the experience is clearly a real trial.
If you are attending an international conference and want to be understood by people who are not native speakers of your language, then there is a simple piece of advice:
Use the microphone.