Say What? Why Do People Forget They Have a Live Mic?

High Stake Attention Blips

Posted Mar 20, 2015

So now there is another story streaming the public conversation about yet another high profile individual forgetting there is a live microphone clipped to him. The list for this faux pas is long, from the worlds of high-ranking politicians, to network news personalities, to athletics and on. And the phenomenon happens every day, to ordinary individuals as well. 

Many musicians and theatre personnel, for instance, have experienced doing a sound check and hanging around stage for a while afterward, forgetting the ol’ mic is open.  Sometimes they don’t realize it until a while later and then ruminate over what they “might” have said.  The same thing can happens at parties, celebrations, institutional conferences and so on as an event is being taped.  I recently attended a conference and as the sound crew was firing up the mics, all kinds of conversations abounded throughout the room. 

Last year, someone I know was giving a lecture in a large college theater.  She was backstage waiting for the chairperson of ceremonies to introduce her.  She had travelled to the college with her old golden retriever who had been ailing so she'd brought him with her.  As she was backstage in waiting, the golden was in her truck in the parking lot out back being taken car of by one of the students. Although it was a nice spring day in Upstate New York, big sky, bright sun, and cool breeze, the student decided it would be fun to bring the golden back stage.  The old dog was well trained and too mellowed by age to cause any raucous.  When my friend saw her lovely dog, she couldn’t help herself – already pumped up for the presentation and somewhat emotional seeing the dog – so she began talking to him with that childlike/motherese kind of verbiage we all might use from time to time to talk with our pets. But the microphone clipped to her lapel had never been turned off.  The result:  everyone in the theater heard her little chat with the pup.  Of course it took them a while to realize she was speaking to a dog.  It also took a few minutes for the sound crew to locate her and turn the open microphone off. 

For her, however, all turned out well as she brought her golden retriever out on stage with her and lightened things up with her laughter.  In her case, the faux pas worked to her advantage as it warmed the audience with a humorous icebreaker she used well before getting into her lecture.  But things don’t always end so lightly and nicely, just ask the myriad of newscasters, politicians, et. al. who have felt the pain. Now there is the Robert Durst story all over the media.

 But just what is it that makes this universal faux pas in attention and concentration so easy to occur?   There are probably as many specific reasons as there are incidents and people. However, distraction can do the trick pretty quickly.  In everyday life, if the power (or signal) goes off while you’re watching a television show you’re glued to, your attention will likely be diverted in an instant.  Other times all it takes is a driver to suddenly cut you off in traffic.  Or for your blood chemistry to change, for any number of reasons, making you overanxious or fatigued. This can happen anywhere.  Or it may be an emotional reaction - to something someone says or something you see or even think you see, or really anything sensory - to drive a flurry of thought and/or memory and habit that veers your focus and then attaches to more of the kind.  All too easily, such elements can trigger damaging behaviors and verbiage right under almost anyone’s radar.

I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of these attention bloopers.  So stay tuned as we forge ahead toward Elections 2016.