Mic fright is a general term for anxiety leading to freezing, choking or hesitating when speaking into a microphone (mic). The physiological response of worrying about saying the right thing to an audience large or small is very natural and expected.
Mic fright or shyness is a reality in public speaking, stage performance and similar situations. Of course, it’s an important topic to new amateur radio operators so let’s provide some perspective and encouragement here.
Making that first voice contact over the radio can be an anxious moment for many new hams. This can also carry over into the first several radio contacts where you worry about saying the right thing and following the rules.
First off, don’t let the “rules” make you nervous. It mainly comes down to proper identification which means giving your call sign every 10 minutes during an exchange and at the end of your last transmission (USA rules, other countries vary). That’s pretty easy to remember.
Second, every ham was a newbie once and remembers what it was like not knowing exactly what they were doing. Most will be patient and helpful, giving coaching and gentle reminders along the way as needed.
For general phone (voice) contacts, there are no real procedures and formalities to worry about; it’s more conversational, much like a phone call. While radio amateurs often use jargon, abbreviation and technical terms (see our Ham-Speak topic), this is not mandatory. Hopefully that takes some of the pressure off to make you more relaxed for your first few contacts.
A starting point for getting on the air the first time is to listen in on the local (VHF/UHF) repeaters and HF SSB bands for a few hours to learn what people say and how they say it. If you follow these examples you are almost certain to be successful when transmitting on your radio.
An excellent way to get past mic fright and performance anxiety is to ease into it with someone in pre-planned fashion on an obscure radio frequency. Get a few casual “practice” contacts in with someone you trust before jumping onto a popular repeater.
Who would this be? Well, it could be your Elmer. You have an Elmer, right? Someone who gives you encouragement, instruction and advice; basically a mentor. They would be the best person to get you on the air the first time and can suggest an appropriate mode, frequency and time to make your first contact or two. A radio exchange or QSO with an Elmer is a low-stress way to get started in ham radio as they can coach and encourage you in real time.
You may also consider doing a pretend contact face-to-face or over the phone, without actually transmitting via radio. This would provide good practice with zero stress.
If you don’t have an Elmer or they are not nearby or otherwise available, find a friendly local ham in a club or EmComm group.
Speaking of clubs and EmComm groups, both are likely to have regular formal or informal nets on a local repeater. These nets are a great way for new hams to practice talking on the air and gaining experience without having to say more than a few words. Again, listen in to get a feel for the flow of things before you jump in, although that shouldn’t be an issue if you are mic shy.
Now if you’re involved in a formal net in an Emergency communications (EmComm) situation, it is advised that you familiarize yourself with the protocol (terms and procedures). Hopefully a real-life EmComm event is not your first taste of speaking on the radio! Don’t let it be; get some practice and experience first.
Bottom line, if you are struggling with mic fright, the only way to get past it is get some success under your belt. Start easy with a friend or trusted ham and work into more involved contacts as you gain experience.
Now if mic fright is so real for you that no amount of friendly practice can get you comfortable on air, don’t despair. You can still enjoy several modes of communication that are non-spoken. Many hams, particularly on the HF bands, communicate non-verbally over great distances using CW (Morse code), keyboard-to-keyboard using RTTY or digital modes, plus slow-scan TV.
Here’s an interesting testimonial from a new ham on his first experiences: The First Contact — Explaining the Excitement of Your First QSO. Worth reading by hams new and old.
Also a good topic in a RadioReference forum: Anyone else Mic Shy?
Finally, this Ham Nation YouTube video on the subject has a bit of encouragement.