Are You Suffering From Mike Fright?

Candid MicrophoneWhile listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, I discovered an interesting fact.

Before legendary producer Allen Funt created Candid Camera, he experimented with a different show based on the same premise.

It was called The Candid Microphone, and it first aired on June 28th, 1947 on ABC Radio. Funt came up with the idea while producing radio shows for the armed forces at Camp Gruber.

One of the shows he worked on was called “The Gripe Booth.” Funt asked soldiers to come into his studio and talk about things that bothered them. Here’s what he found out.

During the pre-interview, most of his guests were at ease and happy to talk. But as soon as the red light went on (indicating that the recording had started), the soldiers became extremely nervous and tongue-tied. This phenomenon is called Mike Fright, and it doesn’t make for good radio.

Luckily, Funt found a way around it. He disconnected the red light, and started recording his guests secretly. He pretended to do a practice interview during which most soldiers were… themselves. And when it was time to do the real thing, he told them he already had what he needed. It was a great gimmick to get spontaneous reactions.

Funt knew he was onto something, and when the war was over, he pitched the idea to ABC, and The Candid Microphone was born.


It might not surprise you to hear that Mike Fright is a very common condition. Just as some people become very self-conscious as soon as they spot a camera, you’ll find that folks who are normally very eloquent, will freeze up when you put a microphone in front of their mouth.

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation, even for professional communicators.

I’ve worked in radio since I was seventeen years old, and in that time I have seen veteran-broadcasters hyperventilate, and wipe the sweat of their foreheads before they were about to go on air. The live broadcasts were the worst, because there are no retakes when you go live.

Even though I believe the public doesn’t really mind that much when people mess up on air (who doesn’t like bloopers?), I’ve seen colleagues who were utterly devastated after they misspoke. I’ve often wondered why they would beat themselves up over something that’s entirely human, and here’s what I came up with:

Many of us want to be perceived as being perfect in public.

That’s why we select the best selfie, and use photo editing software before we post it on social media. We treat the world to the highlights of our life, and we don’t expose our darker side. We love sharing our successes, and we carefully hide our failures.


I completely understand that, by the way. “The world” doesn’t need to know everything about us. We have to protect our privacy and our reputation. The way to do that, is to control and manipulate the message.

Cameras and microphones scare us because they create a situation we can’t predict or control (unless we call the shots). They have the power to expose the private, and make it public. That’s part of the success of a show like Candid Camera. People who don’t know they’re being filmed are much more fun to watch.

Audiences all over the world prefer spontaneous over studied. We want raw emotions instead of rehearsed responses (see last week’s post about authenticity). But there’s something we conveniently forget: in the media, there is no “reality.” At best (or at its worst -depending on your viewpoint), it is “enhanced reality.”

Allen Funt found out pretty quickly that reality in and of itself was pretty boring. That’s why he ended up putting normal people in abnormal situations to see how they would react. I’m sure it wasn’t all comedy gold, and much of the footage ended up on the editing floor.


In a way, our recording booth is part of the “enhanced reality.” It is an artificial setting that can be quite intimidating, especially to newcomers. Some of my students have admitted that they too are sometimes suffering from Mike Fright, especially during live recordings. Their perfectionism might be part of the problem. They want to do so well that they tense up, and become like the self-conscious soldiers in “The Gripe Booth.”

One of the techniques I use to relax my students, is taken straight out of Allen Funt’s book. As we prepare for the session, we go over the script a couple of times and have fun with it. Unadulterated fun.

What my students don’t know, is that everything is being recorded. In their perception, there is no microphone, there is no right or wrong, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re “just” talking to me, and there is no pressure to perform.

That’s when the magic happens, because people start sounding like themselves. They’re by no means perfect, but perfection is never the goal. Perfection is a perverse illusion, anyway. 


Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want people to do their best. I just don’t want them to overdo it. 

One of the reasons why some people aren’t winning auditions is because they sound over rehearsed. They focus too much on the microphone, and they forget to have fun. I will often ask them to position the mike above their head, practically out of sight. That way, it doesn’t distract. It’s one of those small changes that can make a big difference.

Sometimes I go bit further.

A few weeks ago, I asked one of my students to print out a life-size picture of a human ear, and tape it to her microphone.

“Why should I do that?” she asked puzzled.

“To remind you that you’re always talking to a person,” I said. “Not to a mike. It might look a bit eerie, but you’ll get used to it. I promise.”

Soon after my request she said her Mike Fright was practically gone, and when I listened to one of her auditions, she sounded so much better!

To celebrate the achievement, I proposed to take a picture of her in the booth. “It has to be spontaneous,” I said. “So, I’m not going to tell you when I’m taking it.”

Even though she knew it was coming, my snapshot took her by surprise.

“Smile,” I joked.

“You’re on Candid Camera!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Social Media

5 Responses to Are You Suffering From Mike Fright?

  1. Pingback: Are You Suffering From Mic Fright? by Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice | Suzy Jurcevic Voiceovers

  2. Kent Ingram

    I can remember going through similar things, early on. Yes, it can be paralyzing! Once you get used to it, though, you don’t even see the mic.

    Paul, this will be my last post, for awhile. My internet connection will be disconnected tomorrow, while I undergo a new life transition. Your help and understanding have been wonderful for me. God Bless you, sir, and I hope my sabbatical will be a short one. Take care.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m honored that you chose to make your last post a post to me, Kent. Change is part of life, and I hope your period of transition will be positive for you personally and professionally. I wish you nothing but the very best!


  3. Howard Ellison

    Ta-da! The incomparable Philip Banks. How do we follow that? Well, a mere anecdote is what I offer.

    Workshopping with presenters (not worshipping, spellchecker!) on a small community FM here in Devon (UK) I did indeed see mike fright. One participant in particular said she was fearful of the sheer size of the instrument. It wasn’t an RE20, just a bijou AKG cheapo – but it bore such a big POP SCREEN.
    The presenter was so unnerved by that, she got a line set up to her house and did her show from there, using goodness knows what.

    There has to be a Feng Shui of studios! Personally, I’m sure I would be inhibited by a booth – stuffy, dark, boomy sometimes, or over-damped. I mean, after all, goodnessknows, at the end of the day, let’s face it, we are actorrrs. And so sensitive, dahling.


  4. Philip Banks

    No one will pay me to sound like me but I do GREAT characters, I can sound like that guy what does the movie trailers and studied the Iranian double Pause with LA’s top coach, the one, the only …(fanfare) Brodie Castle! Simply not true.

    A while ago I heard a very nice man say to Dave L Expert (top coach) that his accent would not get him work but his US accent (I think he was able to do both US accents)would get him work. Your man was invited on stage to “Americanize”. He was awesome, he must’ve been because Dave L Expert deemed him so. But what about his REAL accent?

    “Well” pontificated Dave, stroking his long bluebeard thoughtfully “it’s Anglo-Cosmo-Euro-Globalapian” so it is very NOW, very marketable” DOUBLE AWESOME WITH A SIDE ORDER OF FRIES! Way to go Dave L Expert!

    I was in the room and looked around as everyone gasped in amazement, threw money at Dave L Expert, wooted and applauded.

    One puzzled face. Mine. I did not know your man with the global…whatever, but I heard him, heard his accent clearly. Second generation Mumbai (India). I said nothing. I later discovered that Philip “WTF do you know?” Banks was, to be polite to Dave L Expert, technically unincorrect about the roots of your man’s accent.

    Mikefright for we voiceoverists is worse than mikefright for mere mortals because we have unrealistic expectations.

    “Mmmmmmmmm, really nice” said Ian, a British producer/director now based in LA “you sound much better when you’re not trying to sound like a voice over!” He uttered those words around 20 years ago and they changed my life, no hyperbole, really they did. I don’t mind being me when the mic is on as it feeds my Collies and buys me VERY impressive trousers.


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