Overcoming Microphone Anxiety

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by VK6FLAB, Mar 29, 2019.

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  1. VK6FLAB

    VK6FLAB Ham Member QRZ Page

    foundations-of-amateur-radio_300.jpg microphone.jpg
    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    Overcoming Microphone Anxiety

    If the thought of keying up a microphone has you break out in a cold sweat, or the notion of making a mistake sends you into fits of anxiety, the idea of performance in public makes your heart pound, this is for you.

    Amateur radio is a hobby of communication. The lowest barrier to entry is a hand held radio and making voice contacts with the rest of the community. There is an underlying assumption that this is likely to be the most common way that you'll start getting on air and making noise.

    Of course you don't have to do that. You could learn Morse Code and never have to open your mouth. You could get a license that's permitted to use a Digital Mode like JT65 or RTTY and let your fingers to the talking. Both those options are perfectly valid and if that's what you need to get on air, be my guest.

    If you do however want to actually get to a point where you can communicate with other amateurs using voice communication, then let's investigate what voice communication actually entails and what fears might be eating away at your confidence.

    The most obvious fear, shared by many, if not most amateurs, is the fear of making a mistake. So let's look at that. Apart from blowing up your gear, which won't actually be noticed by anyone but you, those near to you and perhaps your bank manager, blowing up your gear is not a high embarrassment experience. Expensive perhaps, but not so much socially crippling, unless you tell someone that you did it.

    Other mistakes might be a little more public. For example, if you're on HF, theoretically the entire planet can hear you, perhaps even those space aliens orbiting the Sun and in 4.367 years, those orbiting Alpha Centauri. So potentially, many different individuals and communities can hear you. To counter that I'd point out that most of those will not actually have the means to hear you, or if they technically do, they are likely to be on a different frequency, or otherwise engaged, eating, sleeping, procreating, whatever.

    The chances that someone actually hears you is very, very low and if you're on VHF or UHF, the audience drops even further. The potential audience is only really line-of-sight, unless you happen to activate a Tropospheric duct, but then that might only double the potential audience, the actual audience is still a fraction compared to HF.

    You might be afraid that you'll transmit on the wrong frequency. If you've purchased modern properly built and configured amateur radio equipment, the chances of transmitting out of band, into non-amateur frequencies is very low. If you pay attention to what the dial says, and you have a copy of your band-plan at hand, the chances of getting it wrong are even lower. Even so, the band police aren't going to knock on your door within the next 30 seconds, so take a breath.

    The next set of fears revolve around saying the wrong thing. If you haven't talked on the radio much, or even at all, you're bound to worry about blurting out the wrong thing and being the biggest embarrassment to the hobby in this and the last century.

    Getting your callsign wrong is pretty common. If you're just starting out, or even if you're more experienced, writing down the callsign on a piece of paper and having it in front of you when you key your microphone is good planning. For every contest I participate in using anything other than my own callsign, I bring a piece of paper and a thick marker for just that purpose. I can still get it wrong, sometimes I even notice.

    Then there is the topic of the conversation itself. What do you talk about? How long do you talk? How much should you share?

    The answer to those questions can be summed up with a simple phrase - less is more. If you're establishing the actual contact, a bare minimum is required. You need to first establish that you have their callsign and they have yours. Don't do anything until both those have been confirmed. That goes for both day-to-day contacts and contest contacts. After that, establish how well they are hearing you and how well you are hearing them. Exchange a signal report. If you're in a contest, you'll include the contest exchange while you're sending a signal report.

    If you're not sure about anything, you can stop there. If you're doing a contest, that's all that's needed and unless the other station asks for your dog's name, or the weather, you can safely move on to your next contact.

    Your takeaway from this should be that doing a contest can be a really safe way to start. There is minimal information to exchange, it follows a strict format and it's generally over before you know it.

    Working DX, chasing activators in far away lands can be your next stepping stone, or joining a net on the local repeater might be how you next cut your teeth.

    You can create a list of things you've heard other people mention and use it to describe your environment. Nothing wrong with making some notes.

    Most amateurs perpetually carry around a little notebook to scribble down callsigns so when they're in a group discussion, they can track who's on and who's next.

    As you can tell. You can make this as simple or complex as you like. You can be afraid of the sky falling in, but then you'd need a Druid, a shield and a menhir and if you can swing it, a buddy called Asterix.

    Final comment. If all else fails, pretend you're talking to me. I can tell you that I'm happy to make the contact, I'm all ears and if I hear you, I'll respond. Did I mention that I'm standing on my head and I'm not wearing any clothes?

    So have at it.

    What are you afraid of?

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    TL;DR This is the transcript of the weekly 'Foundations of Amateur Radio' podcast - for other episodes, see http://vk6flab.com/
    K1PXF and AI7PM like this.
  2. AI7PM

    AI7PM Ham Member QRZ Page

    "The next set of fears revolve around saying the wrong thing"

    Here's where many in the hobby perpetuate, or are culpable in causing anxiety in some newer operators. Telling/teaching them nonsense like that need to know and use the Q-codes on phone, that they must say their call with phonetics, attempting to instill or using jargon which has nothing to do with having a nice conversation, or other mythical mystical secret RF society syntax and bovine waste verbiage.
    I have seen many a new ham stumbling over a sentence trying to apply jargon and Q to a conversation, where plain english probably would have flown right off of their tongue.

    I teach newbies to talk to us like they would over a beer or at the dinner table. Would any normal thinking person use Q-codes at the dinner table? Whilst trying to get a date? (<<Assured failure) At the cash register in a grocery store? Others would think you'd been in the bottle or were off your meds. (<<Could explain some of the stuff on 40 and 80m)

    "Yeah yeah, QSL, QSL, roger on that....." Calling a phone net with, "QST QST QST". "Destinated" "Destinated at the QTH" "...clear and monitoring and standing by" "We", when there's only you. Schizophrenia?
    "For ID" Huh?! Why else wuld you say your ID except to ID? Anytime it's said it's IDing.

    Where did this nonsense come from, and why do so many perpetuate it?
  3. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    It's not about nonsense, it's about tradition. If you want to take part in a hobby with a long history of tradition listen and learn. Much of what has been mentioned when it comes to overcoming mic anxiety can be cured by spending some time listening. True there may be a few phrases to be avoided such as saying "roger that" after every transmission from the other station, that could be a carry-over from another radio service(s). Absolutely nothing wrong with some use of 'Q' signals for certain voice activities. For close to 60 years I use "QSL" on phone for contest exchanges as well as for satellite contacts.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2019
    KY5U and K1PXF like this.
  4. KQ9J

    KQ9J Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Overcome microphone anxiety....use a key instead :D
  5. K8SQB

    K8SQB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Personally, I think the best way to get over microphone fright is to work SSB during Field Day. What an incredible coincidence, one is coming up in June!

    Get those bashful hams on a microphone, digging out those contacts and they'll forget all about what someone thinks of their voice over radio or their technique. They'll get better with practice, practice, practice and build confidence.

    Round the new hams or ham-potentials up and get the to work GOTA or SSB and they'll fit in in no time.:cool:
    K1PXF likes this.
  6. KS5I

    KS5I Ham Member QRZ Page

    Oh good grief. Ya'all are making this too hard. I've been talking on the radio for 51 years....both as a ham and professionally on broadcast stations all over the country. The first time I was on a broadcast station I had to read a commercial live, in the middle of a St. Louis Cardinal game on our little hometown, 250 watt, AM station. When I realized I could hear myself "breathe" in my headphones, I tried to quit breathing. By the time I got to the end of the 30 second ad, I was out of breath. Guess what? We all breathe. Today, I use those "breaths" to make the commercial sound "real".

    Just be real. Be yourself. No one is keeping score....and if you mess up and say "booger" on the air, you won't get fired, unless your name is Dr. Johnny Fever.

    Have fun and whoever is listening will have fun right along with you.
  7. W0AQ

    W0AQ XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Perfect! I had a long career in broadcasting before changing careers. It helps to be a loudmouth.

    Co Cardinals!
    K1PXF likes this.
  8. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    One of the reasons I have endorsed the proposal to give our entry level people more digital privileges is just this. Particularly with YLs and younger hams, mic fright is a major phenomenon. I started out at 13, and much of the time I knew I was talking to people my parent's and grandparent's age, even back in 1965 when there seemed to be lots more young guys in the Novice bands.
  9. KY5U

    KY5U Ham Member QRZ Page

    You said it, man.
  10. KY5U

    KY5U Ham Member QRZ Page

    Amen, brother!!
  11. W7CJD

    W7CJD Ham Member QRZ Page

    I find it helpful to get on a 2-meter net, or an 80-meter net.

    ..you check-in with your callsign when asked for new or late check-ins, then, the net control person goes back thru the list of check-ins for a report.

    ..you can say not much, if you like.

    However, it gets your speaking on amateur radio started.

    Listen, and if you like join in.

    On HF, I hear QSY up or down to another frequency to avoid QRM or QRN.

    On VHF/UHF, not so much. However using the military phonetic alphabet practice is nearly always helpful. It is considered "good practice".
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2019
  12. VK2NZA

    VK2NZA Ham Member QRZ Page

    Onno - VK6FLAB
    Great post! there can be no doubt that unless one is an extreme extrovert with a severe case of overconfidence then most of us approached the mocrophone dubiously when first hitting the airwaves.
    I returned to amateur radio recently from a long hiatus and indeed felt some nervousnes when initially answering a call or joining a net.
    I did confuse my new call juxtaposing the letters around the wrong way on two ocaisions shortly after upgrading my licence and receiving a new callsign.
    I have found most amateurs are very forgiving and indeed encourage a new amateur if you let them know this is new to you.
    However on one ocaision having answered a call from one of my own country-men was made to feel inadequate because he couldn't find my call sign or profile on QRZ, questioning if I was indeed a holder of a licence, and was quite rude, this was one week into my station being completed and my 4th QSO after 40 years off air.
    Indeed I had not registered or set up a QRZ profile and I finished the QSO feeling rather perplexed.
    I now have a profile on QRZ , but it has taught me to be very accomodating of new call amateurs and make efforts to encourage new members to the calling and realise that there are some real "curmudgeons"on the waves.
    Thankfully most amateurs are not like this!
    "Just my take" Ross VK2NZA.
  13. W7UUU

    W7UUU Principal Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    I became a ham in March 1974 (passed my Novice in December 1973 - it took a long time back then to get your ticket!). Of course, being the US Novice was CW only, I only ran CW. I passed my General in summer of 1975, and received an already-built SB-101 SSB/CW transceiver as a gift from my parents. And it came with the standard Heathkit (Turner) hand mic that I could then use with my General privileges.

    But I was really nervous about using it!! I made a very small number of SSB contacts because of my "mic anxiety", and just stayed with CW. For YEARS.

    It wasn't until 1996 when I got hardcore back into ham radio that I started to rethink using a mic. I bought a Kenwood TS-820S that came with a mic and tentatively tiptoed back into some SSB contacts - but it still was awkward for me. June 1997 I passed my Extra, and again gave up the mic entirely for CW - again for years CW was the only mode I wanted to use, at least until 2004 or so.

    I've always said that "CW is the perfect mode for someone who doesn't have a lot to say but wants a lot of time to say it" :)

    But nowadays, I'm totally at home in SSB, CW, Digital - whatever. And I'm in sales, using microphones in front of large groups for training sessions regularly, and am president of our local club, using a mic for the entire meeting. So my "mic anxiety" is clearly long long gone.

    But it indeed took me years to overcome it... it's a very real thing!

    N7ANN likes this.
  14. WN1MB

    WN1MB Ham Member QRZ Page


    Odd how some people who have no problem talking on a telephone suddenly freeze up with a microphone in their face - as if the telephone doesn't have a microphone.

    Just talk, for goodness sake...you know, like you've been doing since you were a toddler?
  15. W7UUU

    W7UUU Principal Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    Kind of naive to assume that just cuz something is easy for you it's easy for everyone, dontcha think? :(

    Life just doesn't always work that way

    N7ANN likes this.

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