How to talk good on the radio?–Speech exercises for average voices?
May 5, 2014 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Speech therapists/radio presenters: I may have to do some podcast-type stuff for work. I don't have a great radio voice. It's thin and slightly regionally accented, and I talk quickly, mumble and (soberly) slur words a bunch. With attention and concentration I can correct these faults up to "average" level; but I'd like to be good at radio/podcast presentation. What further steps should I take?

For the past 7 years, I've done a lot of public speaking in the form of Q&As/presentations. Early on I was doing a pretty bad job (fast talking, mumbling, underenunciation), but with tons of practice I've gotten a lot better. I guess I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of "average", now, but can still slip into bad habits if I'm excited or distracted.

I will have radio pros running mic-ing/mixing/engineering -- so not so much looking for equipment advice/setups. I know the basics of mic technique and have worked on a sound crew before -- but if you have some next-level/advanced advice that you think would help, please do share.

Looking instead for voice advice, and things addressing developing one's presentation voice, specifically. (exercises? programs?). I know about Toastmasters, of course, but I'm interested in exploring alternatives with more of a radio focus.

If it would help, here's a six-minute example of me speaking publicly [I have no affiliation with that YouTube account, or with that organization, past them recording me when I spoke once. ]. While I don't think I sound remarkably good or bad, keep in mind that this probably represents my high-water mark; and I think that of the presenters that day I was definitely on the low side -- several groups large enough to have a designated "good talker" sent their good talkers that day, and they did better and were more easily understood.

I would like to be a good (radio) talker. I realize that scripted public oration is different than radio, but I hope the example illustrates the baseline upon which I'm trying to build. Sincere thanks for your time and for your expertise.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Practice, practice, practice. Record yourself, listen to it, and practice more.

Instead of using fillers like um or uh, try just pausing.
posted by radioamy at 9:55 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

the greek orator/troublemaker demosthenes is said to have gone to the seashore, put pebbles in his mouth and talk to the waves to prepare himself for rants against his adversary, philip of macedon, father of alexander the great.
posted by bruce at 10:06 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

You list only aspects of your voice and delivery that you see as cumbersome or barriers to effective speaking. Are you familiar with the natural tendencies in your voice, phrasing, word choice that you like, besides getting better at general intelligibility? I ask because this for me is the heart of really good radio delivery - rhythm and cadence that suits you.

I've produced a few radio documentaries, and I found that my delivery was most effective when I was going with the flow of my natural style (wordy with lots of tone inflection) instead of trying to achieve a more steady, almost deadpan Clear Radio Style. YMMV on the specifics.

Have you tried preparing a segment and video-recording yourself? I find this a helpful way to identify what I do naturally with my delivery. And also, don't be afraid for that rhythm to change up when you're excited -- that can be really compelling to listen to! Spend some time watching and listening to yourself trying a variety of things, and I'm guessing you'll get used to how to work with your voice in those more enthusiastic moments.

Transom has some really great essays in their Craft section about radio production broadly -- can't immediately find something voice-related but you might find it helpful. TAL has a few more ideas too. Good luck, sounds like a fun project!
posted by elephantsvanish at 10:12 AM on May 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you look for "voiceover tutorials, tips and techniques", you will find lots of resources. YouTube is a great place to start.
posted by rada at 10:27 AM on May 5, 2014

Slow. Down. And. Be. Deliberate. It will always feel a lot slower to you than it will to your audience. That slowness should come from gaps between the words and sentence as much as -- or even more than -- drawing out and pronouncing the words more clearly. As you slow down with gaps, you'll have to learn to be comfortable with that silence, and that means no um... or er..., just bring your sentences to a halt and be comfortable with that before starting the next sentence. If you find yourself stuck, you can always stop recording, find your place, then resume. If you've learned to be silent when stuck, the resulting edit will be really easy -- matching silence to silence -- but if you rush or fill in gaps with um... or er..., the resulting edit will be a mess.

Everything else you're concerned about is a non-issue; it's just the way you speak, and there's nothing at all wrong with sounding like the person you are. The world is full of professional speakers and singers whose voices are not stellar and whose pronunciations are not clear, but they're successful anyway. The important thing is to work on confidence and pacing and silence to allow easy edits when you get stuck.
posted by davejay at 10:33 AM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing "record yourself." Do this until you no longer cringe at hearing recordings of yourself. Even if you take no specific steps to improve the quality of your delivery this will provide meaningful benefits.

When I edit audio, tongue clicks are often my biggest problem with the technique of the speaker. I edited an audio tour for a tourist destination that some other person had recorded, and every time a new sentence started there was a tongue click. Stuff like that is pretty easy to ignore in real-life conversations, but in recorded audio it is awful. Especially if you have to edit the audio and the tongue clicks are right on top of the audio you want to keep, especially especially if there's background noise and you can't just trim the click without pasting in room-tone. So I advise consciously developing a habit of not nesting your tongue against your teeth and roof of your mouth between speech segments - let it float. You'll avoid tongue-clicks that way.

I thought of collecting all the tongue clicks into a new track so I could play it and annoy the hell out of people, but I'm just not that evil.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2014

Best answer: I do a lot of vocal coaching for radio. There are four main ways you can use your voice to communicate more clearly. Here are the tools in the human voice toolbox:

1. Pitch
2. Speed
3. Rhythm/Pauses
4. Volume

Right now, hearing your sample, you are speaking a little too fast and pause only when you need to take a breath (or when you're reading at the end of a sentence). You sometimes use a little pitch and sometimes use a little volume to emphasize a single word. Given your current delivery, you need to slow down and try using pauses more for emphasis. You can try playing with pitch, but that's harder to master. You'll have more success with rhythm and pauses.

Some techniques:

A. Stop reading. Start talking. You should either memorize your content or read off bullet points so you sound like you're "talking" to another human and not reading off a page. One technique for this in a recording booth is to start every paragraph with, "Hi Paul, the thing about X is..." just to get you in a conversational mode. You can edit the "Hi Paul" part out later.

B. Stand up. Use hand gestures.
One way to try and get your voice more in line with an active vocal performance is to be more active yourself. Never read sitting down. Use exaggerated hand gestures — crazy big — to get yourself moving.

C. Mark up your script.
Print your script out in a huge font (15+) double spaced. This seems crazy, but the less 'cognitive' work you have to do translating the text to speech, the more cognitive room you have for your delivery. Once it's printed out, underline words for emphasis. Add big commas and ellipses for places you need to pause. Use little arrows to mark a higher or lower tone on a word.

D. Hack Your Script With this One Weird Trick! Most people read badly because they're reading written text. That is, the thing they're reading out loud was written for the page, not the ear. To change this: get a recorder; phone a friend; explain your topic to you friend directly, informally, chattily, WITHOUT NOTES; then take the recording and transcribe parts of your recording to make your speech.

E. Listen hard to NPR hosts. Listen to some NPR — Morning Edition or All Things Considered — and focus not on what they're saying, but what they're emphasizing. In your read, you sometimes emphasize one single word with pitch/volume in a sentence. Usually they emphasize more words in different ways. Listen, count, and imitate.

And practice! Good luck!
posted by amoeba at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

Radio presenter here - gotten tons of compliments on my delivery, though when you're doing it really well, people won't notice your delivery. The main thing is to love what you're doing, and to be conversational.

The consistent mistake most non-radio people make (and quite a few who have jobs anyway) is that they think they need to be doing something different on the air. That's false. Be yourself. It's the hardest thing in the world to do when a mic is in front of you, but you can do it when you let go of obsessiveness over technique. Don't get bogged down with rules, excercises, copying anybody else. That's the wrong path.

Are you passionately interested in what you're talking about? Enthusiasm about your subject will come through, and the rest will fall into place.

Some NPR hosts are great, but a lot of people on NPR sound slow, pretentious, self-indulgent, over-precise. They're way too complacent - don't emulate those folks. Just speak on the air (or in your podcast) the way you would to a friend.

It doesn't sound like you'll be having co-hosts, but it helps a lot, because you're actually just conversing normally, and you'll forget all about how you sound. Think about your subject, not yourself. High energy is great when it isn't faked. Be real and the audience will LOVE you!

Good luck, and enjoy yourself!
posted by cartoonella at 11:49 AM on May 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh and on the "practice" bit, if you're reading any copy, you need to practice it ahead of time. Out loud. Maybe several times. When you get more practiced it's still a good idea to preread.
posted by radioamy at 1:19 PM on May 5, 2014

Fast and clear: "Lickety lickety split split split".
posted by amtho at 1:21 PM on May 5, 2014

Tell each sentence of your script to an imaginary person who cares about what you're saying. Might be a different person for each sentence. They can be based on people you know, or completely made up. If you're talking about world opinion, maybe your listener for that sentence cares about your city's reputation. If you're talking about an architectural style, maybe your audience in that sentence is an architectural history student. Somebody wants to get value from your words, speak clearly so they get it. You practice your words until you don't have to worry about them, they are merely the structure you use to decide whose attention you are going to draw in any given moment.
This would also work if you were public speaking, just replace the imaginary people with the real people who happen to be in front of you.
posted by otherchaz at 7:36 PM on May 5, 2014

Just a note about cartoonella's point regarding NPR hosts. Most people confuse all of "public radio" with NPR — they are in fact, two different things. I am not talking about your local junior radio jockey delivering the morning weather on your local station. Those are public radio station hosts. NPR hosts, on Morning Edition and All Things Considered are at the very top of the field: David Greene, Steve Inskeep, Renee Montaigne, Audie Cornish, Melissa Block, Robert Siegel. They know what they're doing and sound like human beings.
posted by amoeba at 8:46 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try not wearing heaphones while recording. Usually, people want to wear themselves and check what they sound like, but it can make you self-conscious because your voice is blasting in your ear. That's not how we hear ourselves usually. Take them off, make lots of hand gestures, and try to sound like yourself.
posted by bubonicpeg at 6:00 AM on May 6, 2014

I notice that this post is tagged with "stammer" and I also see from your profile that you are in St. Louis. Saint Louis University has a Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic that runs on a reduced scale. I assure you that they would be happy to help you out. Speech therapy is not just for folks with severe disorders, but is for anyone who has the potential to benefit for the therapy. So since you are not happy with your voice, it is perfectly appropriate for you to be treated.
posted by Brent Parker at 9:09 AM on May 6, 2014

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