“Can everybody hear me?”

Presenters often open by asking “Can everybody hear me?” or “Can everyone hear me without the microphone?”

This isn’t a very effective way to find out if everyone can hear you. It feels like asking, but it isn’t really — because it doesn’t usually give people the opportunity to say no.

If you want to know if everyone can hear you, this way of asking works better:

  • First, ask if everyone can hear you. This will get the attention of the people who can.
  • Next, ask everyone “Can the person next to you hear me?”
  • Wait 7 seconds for people to ask each other
  • Next, say, “Raise your hand if you or someone near you needs me to talk louder or use the microphone.”
  • Wait at least 7 seconds before moving on. 
  • (7 seconds feels really long as a presenter. It helps to literally count silently to yourself).

Asking this way solves two problems:

It makes it easier for people to hear the question:

  • If someone can’t hear you well, they may not hear “Can everybody hear me?”
  • This can give you the misleading impression that everyone can hear you.
  • When you ask, “Can everybody hear me?” the people who can, tend to respond “yes” immediately
  • The people who *can’t* hear you well, often don’t hear the question.
  • Or they may not understand what you’ve said until you’ve already moved on.
  • But they probably *can* hear people who are close to them talking to them directly.
  • Asking “can the person next to you hear me?” makes it more likely that people who can’t hear you will understand the question.

It makes it easier for people to respond to the question:

  • Saying “Can everybody hear me?” or “Can everyone hear me without the microphone?” *feels* like asking, but often it really isn’t. 
  • The problem is that asking that way doesn’t give people an obvious socially acceptable way to respond.
  • So in order for people to say “I can’t hear you” or “I need you to use the microphone”, they have to interrupt you.
  • Which feels like a conflict, and most people don’t want to go into a presentation and immediately have a conflict with the presenter.
  • It also makes them have to identify themselves as having an inconvenient impairment in front of the whole group.
  • That’s uncomfortable on a number of levels, and may be actively frightening. 
  • Not everyone is going to be willing or able to interrupt you or take risks. 
  • Even when people are willing, it’s still anxiety provoking in a way that’s likely to make your presentation less comfortable and effective
  • Giving people a clear way to respond gets you better information, and helps you to build a better rapport with your audience 
  • (And doing it in the specific way I suggest makes it possible for people to let you know they can’t hear you without having to interrupt you, identify themselves to you, or identify themselves to the whole group.)

Tl;dr If you’re giving a presentation, asking “Can everyone hear me?” probably won’t result in people who can’t hear you telling you so. Scroll up for more detailed information about a more effective approach and why it works better.