One of the reasons podcasting is so popular is because it connects on such an intimate level. You’re not just reading my words off a screen, you’re hearing them — and in my voice. There’s a lot of power in that. But so many potential podcasters I meet fear that microphone on such a base level. They don’t “sound good,” they don’t have “the right voice.” I have something to say to that: stfu.
Seriously. I come from a broadcasting background and am an actor and in all these years I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t be trained or coached into the kind of natural presence that really connects because, and here’s the big secret, you’ve already got what it takes. You do! — you hold natural, engaging and authentic conversations every day of your life. They might only be two or three sentences with the bus driver as you hop on to go to work, or an exchange with a colleague or whatever, but it’s there. You know how to do it. Doing it behind a mic shouldn’t change much.
And that’s the problem actually. For some reason, put someone behind a mic and suddenly they suddenly think they have to change everything about the way they talk, as if the microphone requires a special kind of talking for it to actually pick up and record a voice. It doesn’t. The key, the real key is to just be you. There’s no right way other than the way you naturally speak. Catch that, because I’m going to say it about a thousand more times. There’s no right way. So stop trying for it. And that brings us to tip #1—
- Stop trying. One of my favorite pieces of advice to actors comes from coach (to Glenn Close, among others) Harold Guskin: stop looking for right choices. You can do the same with your podcast. Stop trying to sound cool, stop trying to give yourself that radio or NPR voice (a voice, by the way that one of the great radio storytellers Ira Glass doesn’t even have), stop try for what you think you should sound like. Instead, sound like you. Use your voice without any modifications, without any vocal contortions — the authenticity is what we’ll connect with. There is no right way to say something. Just say it. Just talk. And who are you talking to?
- Talk to just one person. Instead of imaging speaking to thousands of listeners, talk as though you’re having a conversation with just one person. Another way of thinking about it is to talk as though you’re sitting across from your mom or a friend at the dining room table. This is a trick broadcasters use to make sure they’re sticking to simple and clear language when telling their stories (and one you can use when writing your podcast scripts), but it can also help you lighten up and access the authentic and natural you. There’s no pressure in this situation. You’ve talked with mom or that friend a billion times, so just do it once more. You really need to access the imagination here — really picture that person just on the other side of your mic. If you have a cohost, then, awesome. This’ll be that much easier. Just talk to them like the mics aren’t there and you’re not doing a show. Remember, there’s no right way to say something, so… just say it.
- Take it off the page. This is another Harold Guskin trick that can help if you work with a script. Glance down and gather as many words off the page as you can remember at one time, just taking them in. Then, look up, and say those words to your one person (see #2 above) without looking for a right way to say it. Do this again until you’ve worked your way through the script, then rinse and repeat. Do it until you’re totally comfortable and you’ve assimilated the words. You have the bonus of working with a script you can change, so if something’s not sitting well at the end of all this, rewrite it. After a dozen sessions or so, you should be more than ready to hit record.
- Distract yourself. This is another exercise for those of you who work with scripts. The idea here is to get out of your head and stop thinking so much about what you’re saying and what you think is the exact right way to say it. The trick is to make the task challenging. My go to is to grab my script, put it where I can see the words and then try to build a house of cards as I work to take the words off the page. A few rehearsals like this can really help.
- Ditch the script. If 3 and 4 aren’t working for you, then try working without the script. You can improvise, or you can memorize. A lot of the vocal stiffness comes during the reading process, and trying to sound right (but there’s no right way, remember?). Cut out the reading part during the recording process, and you might find you’ve eliminated a huge stumbling block.
- Smile. Try this. Say “hello.” Now say it again, but with a big smile. Hear the difference? There should be one. Smiling gives your natural voice a warm, friendly boost and for a lot of people, is all they need to improve their sound.
Bonus tip. You might find your voice sounds natural and that your read is really conversational, but still lacks energy. It might be a diction problem. Sloppy pronunciation can muffle a voice and make it seem dull. Work on annunciation and in particular getting those consonants out. Word endings are also really important. Here are some good exercises to help improve your diction.