How do I talk better?
June 3, 2015 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I have been asked to go on a radio show in a couple days. And for some reason, I said yes. Halp!

I've been asked to be a guest on a pretty legit radio show carried by a large broadcaster. They want me on the show for a two-hour block to take questions from callers and talk with other panelists who will come in and out for half hour blocks. I will be paid and it might be good for my moonlighting career. As far as the subject matter, I feel comfortable and I plan to study up before going on too.

But I don't have any broadcast experience and I hate the way I talk. When I had been asked to do smaller podcasts and radio shows, I always said no specifically because of how I hate hearing myself talk. (In retrospect, I should've done them as practice because when I got this big offer, I couldn't turn it down.) I hate my voice and the way I talk. How can I talk better?

My specific problem I think is that when I talk, I feel like I sound like I am taking breaths in the middle of my sentences and I sound choppy. Or maybe I am just kind of thinking and it comes out in little bursts. I'd like my speech to flow naturally and comfortably. Is there anything I can do about this? Another problem is needing to either a) swallow in the middle of my sentences or b) clear my throat to avoid getting a frog in there. Any remedies on that, other than keeping a bottle of water handy in between questions?

Any other tips for how to be pleasant to listen to and sound alright? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. (And I already know the one about smiling.) Thanks!
posted by AspirinPill to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I used to give museum tours. Here were the big things for me:

-talk slower than you think you should

-no, even slower than that

-wait a beat before you start talking and use that time to let a nice, big breath in and out

-between sentences, give yourself a short but palpable pause. (To remind myself to do this I trained myself to smile in between sentences.)

I worked myself through public speaking stage fright with those few basic things. I'd get excited about what I was talking about, or overly conscious of people listening to me, or slightly flustered and talk too fast. I had to constantly remind myself to slow down and pace myself. You want to be heard and understood, first and foremost.

I also talk to myself a lot. Especially when I'm driving since my car doesn't have a radio (thanks, neighborhood hooligans). I run through fake potential conversations in my head, how I'd respond to particular questions and that sort of thing. Speaking through it, out loud to myself with no audience to worry about, helped me cultivate a natural ease and flow in speaking.

Your focus should be on pacing yourself, getting your thoughts fully out, and enunciating and speaking clearly. It really doesn't matter what your voice sounds like.
posted by phunniemee at 10:32 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

You will notice lots of interviewees say things like "hello caller, thanks for that interesting question" - they are giving themselves time to think before they answer.
posted by tinkletown at 1:07 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Listen to Phunniemee: slow down. I've been interviewed on the radio before, and there were times when I thought I'd badly stalled out and spent like 45 seconds going, "Um, and, uh, duh, you know, um..." But then when I played the tape back, those horrible moments lasted a fraction of a second. They usually went by so fast, nobody but me would have a clue that I was having a meltdown.

Don't think about breathing or swallowing. The odds are that nobody will notice how you breathe or swallow. Focus on the host, and the callers. Listen. Take your time to answer, think it over. Remember: if you are nervous, that means your mind is going like 300 miles faster than everybody else's. You can think six things before they think one, so you have time to figure out what you want to say.

Above all else, relax. That will make a bigger difference than anything. You may well feel a moment of panic at the beginning (a moment that feels like it lasts a long time) but you'll settle down. If you're anything like me, by the time you leave you'll wish you had your own show.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:33 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

N-thing pausing when you need to rather than saying um, ah, etc. This is something I had to practice in German to avoid using annoying filler words when I was nervous.

Definitely have a bottle of water handy. You could also drink a cup of ginger tea first (some singers do this before performances) to warm up your throat.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:19 AM on June 4, 2015

You could try some vocal warm-ups beforehand.

I worked for a year as a radio news editor and newsreader, and had no experience or training in the presentation part before I started.

Based on that, I'd offer some reassurance on two points -

* Other people probably don't think you sound as bad as you do. Everyone hates the sound of their own voice when they first hear it.
* If this a long-term gig, you will improve over time without having to make a conscious effort. You'll become more relaxed, your breathing and voice will get slower and stronger, and you'll get a better sense of timing.

Some of this will happen as you get less nervous, but it'll also be helped if you can bear to listen to recordings of the show, if such things exist. Once you get over the horror, just listening to your broadcasting voice will give you feedback that will help you modulate your voice. You don't even have to listen out for specific things (except, inevitably, you'll notice that you're talking too fast to start with). Somehow just getting used to hearing yourself creates a subconscious feedback loop that helps you modulate your voice a little.

Towards the end of my year on air, me and my fellow newsreader listened to recordings of our very early broadcasts and hooted with laughter at how we'd sounded - we'd both got slower, deeper and more authoritative-sounding without really trying.

In terms of your two specific questions about swallowing and throat-clearing - you manage to do these things in every day speech without thinking about it, right? Being on the radio is no different. You're not delivering a dramatic speech that has to be utterly perfect.

Good radio - especially on a conversational show like this - is when people sound like they're just talking naturally to the listener as if they were in the room with you. I mean, don't cough hard directly into the mic, but apart from that, do what you'd normally do. If you get a massive coughing fit, they'll probably drop your mic, but normal sounds that occur while you speak aren't a big deal.

You could ask the producer if you can get into the studio early so you can try it out and get a feel for certain technical things like how far from the mic you should be, and what it's like hearing everything through headphones.

Good luck!
posted by penguin pie at 2:42 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Try recording yourself in a studio to get used to the way that a good microphone can affect the sound of your voice coming out of a radio speaker or some tinny earbuds. I did ten years on radio, and listening to "skim tapes" of shows allowed me to make small adjustments in how I spoke on the air. I can make my naturally whiny live voice sound like Sir richard Burton simply by remembering that I have a uvula in there and making sure i am close to the mike... I even ended up with side line doing movie trailer voice-overs and narrating one of those long multi-part History Channel docs about Nazis.

Remembering to speak slowly and not get all jumpy and excited - nobody is going to interrupt you. And always remember: you gotta keep talking. No long pauses, no dead air.
posted by zaelic at 5:10 AM on June 4, 2015

Ask to stand up while you are talking. You will sound better. Take an allergy pill the night before so that your throat is clearer. Yell in your car every day leading up to it to help with your breath. Try talking louder and see what it changes. Speak with a smile on your face. People can hear smiles. Drink hot tea throughout the 2 hours. And remember, you are working with professionals. If you truly suck, they will manage you to sound your best.
posted by myselfasme at 5:18 AM on June 4, 2015

It'll be much easier than you think, especially if the interviewer is good.

Here's a small thing that sounds silly but will make a difference. Plan what you'll say when you're introduced and when you're done. "Hi [name], thanks for having me." and "It was a pleasure." will go a long way to making you sound relaxed and professional.

Also, if someone comes into the studio and futzes with your microphone while you're on air, ignore them. Also if the interviewee seems oddly brusque or distracted while you're getting settled in, ignore that too. It's normal and lots of interviewers are like that: they're busy and will focus on you when the time comes.

Take a piece of paper and a pen in with you. That way you can make little notes to yourself if you need to, which will reduce the stress of needing to remember things.

Yes to water, yes to practicing, yes to "that's a great question," also. Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 5:55 AM on June 4, 2015

As far as the breathing issue, it sort of sounds like anxiety. If you drink, could you have a (very small) drink before doing this to help you relax?
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:44 AM on June 4, 2015

Yes to slowing your speech down. Even if it feels like it's too slow. It really does help to make you sound confident in what you're saying.
Yes to smiling when you speak. Even if it feels stupid. It really does help to add energy and enthusiasm to what you're saying.
And I'd suggest being aware of trying to keep your answers and responses shorter, rather than longer. Shorter sentences are easier to manage than run-on sentences.
posted by annekenstein at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2015

This previous AskMe has a lot of good advice.
posted by TedW at 8:25 AM on June 4, 2015

I won't be in a studio. I'll just do it via Skype because the show in produced in a major city I don't live in. So I'm going to have notes and stats in front of to talk about. But I'm still quite nervous about it and being able to articulate things in an eloquent matter.
posted by AspirinPill at 9:50 AM on June 4, 2015

When I did college radio, they made us tape ourselves on air, listen to it, and critique it. It helped immensely. Can you have a friend do a mock show with you (maybe not the whole 2 hours) and tape it? I know it's painful to listen to your voice but it's a surefire way to get better.

Other tips
- Sit up straight, with your shoulder back and relaxed
- Smile
- Talk slowly, and pause

If at all possible, get your hands on a decent mic.
posted by radioamy at 10:02 AM on June 4, 2015

If your host is any good, they will be adept at jumping in if you get frazzled or sidetracked to redirect and pull out the interesting points of what you said. That is to say - relax. Everyone will be working with you to create the best outcome possible. Sounds like this is a big production, all of those folks have your back. I hope thinking about it in this way helps!
I was recently involved in something similar and was surprised at how fast it went with all of the into/outros, music, other segments and other guests. You will be speaking far, far less than two hours.
Prior to the show, me and the host sat down and came up with my main points (what's my organization, what do we do) and my main plugs (descriptions and dates of upcoming dates). It may be helpful to you to have a cheat sheet of questions you anticipate. Be able to describe yourself and background succinctly, what got you interested in your field, and main points you may discuss. I find that even writing them down once helps me organize my thoughts enough that I don't even need to read from the notes at all, it's just good practice in structuring your thoughts.
Break a leg!!!
posted by rubster at 10:16 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Abstract turn-based iOS games for frustrated paws?   |   Is it legal to put dog poop in a neighbor's trash... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.