How To Be Your (Lovely, Perfect) Self
I'll totally admit it. I had a bit of a throwaway edition planned for this week. Something that was mostly already written. Something I wouldn't have to work too hard to push out.
But then...amazingly, dozens and dozens of you answered my call for new subscribers. And that made me feel like I needed to work a little harder to earn your trust.
So, I decided to talk about something that every audio maker needs to cultivate if they want to be successful.
Something even a veteran radio/podcast "persona" would do well to think about from time to time.
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Look, when we talk about your "voice," we're not just talking about the sound your vocal cords make.
In fact, we're rarely talking about the sound your vocal cords make. Whether your voice is low and silky or high and squeaky doesn't make much of a difference.
So what are we talking about?
We're talking about your writing – the words you use. And we're talking about the tone, pacing and emotion you bring to the microphone.
Of all the things that you do as an audio maker, finding your voice might be the most important. It's your first point of connection with the listener. It's what makes people want to pay attention to what you have to say.
So, how do you find your voice???
Truth be told, it can take years. Even decades.
But there are a few tips to help speed up the process.
Keep it Simple
A lot of new-ish audio makers try to make themselves sound authoritative. Or smart.
A few will try to sound quirky. Or sassy. Or even sexy.
But your first and most important job is to be clear. To write sentences that make sense. And to read them in a way that's easy to follow.
So don't waste your time writing gorgeous, lyrical sentences. They'll leave your listener scratching their head, wondering what the heck you're talking about
And don't make a lot of effort to change the pitch or natural sound of your voice. You're not fooling anyone.
Instead, write simple sentences. One idea at a time.
And when you get into the studio, don't worry about whether your voice sounds authoritative or smart or quirky or sassy or even sexy.
Instead, imbue meaning into each and every word as it comes out of your mouth. Focus on making your story clear. Easy to follow. Easy to understand.
Remember, your listener will likely be in their car or on a run or doing the dishes. They're not going to rewind if they can't understand you. They're just going to move on to something else.
So, when you're starting out, clarity is your #1 job. Everything else will follow.
Say it Out Loud
Audio scripts aren't meant to be read with the eyes.
They're meant to be heard by the ears.
So when you're writing, read your words out loud. Speak them. And you will hear where you went wrong.
And when you're getting ready to go into the studio -- or the recording closet -- don't practice by muttering under your breath.
Say. It. Out. Loud.
I don't care how silly you feel. Talking into a microphone is inherently silly.
You might as well get used to that right from the jump.
Find Your Zen
I used to work with a radio host who would announce that he was going for a walk whenever he got stuck writing a script.
I love to show up to the studio five minutes early so I can sit in the dark and take deep breaths.
Whatever calms you down, chills you out, makes you feel secure -- consider using that thing to help you get into the proper headspace to write your script. Or to help you banish the self-doubt before a tracking session.
Just…if alcohol is your thing, be aware. There's a reason why so many famous authors were alcoholics.
(I'm looking at you, Hemingway.)
Have you ever noticed how many voices sound like other voices?
I mean, for a long time, we were subjected to a million Ira Glass wannabes.
They were more recently replaced by Michael Barbaro wannabes.
And the other day, I was listening back to a very successful, award winning podcast and I thought to myself, "Why is this woman trying to sound like Avery Trufleman?!? She is NOT Avery Trufleman!!
(I love Avery Trufleman's voice. Don't you?)
I don't mean to harsh on all the wannabes out there. Truth is, it happens to all of us.
It even happened to me...during what I like to call my "Anna Sale" phase.
I was in deep. Listening to episode after episode. And my own voice started to drift...
The only thing that knocked me out of it was when a listener wrote into the show and said, "I love your voice! You remind me of Anna Sale!!"
And then I realized I needed to stop listening to so much Sex, Death and Money.
Whoever your favorites are, be careful not to spend too much time with them.
That cadence, that tone, that style is going to crawl into your brain and affect the way you sound. The way you write. The way you make stories.
I'm not saying you shouldn't "borrow" from those who have come before you. Heck, half of this newsletter has been "borrowed" from people I've listened to and admired over the years.
What I'm saying is…you should listen to all the people who are doing things that you admire. Mix it up!
Broaden your listening habits and give your brain the chance to move beyond imitation.
(and while you're at it)
Don't Worry About What's "Missing"
Back in the day, you had to be born with great "pipes" to make it in the audio world. But that's not true anymore.
What today's decision makers are looking for are voices that can connect with the audience. Voices that feel like old friends. Voices the listener can relate to.
Voices that are real.
So stop worrying about the qualities your voice doesn't have. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
You are enough.
Let me say that again.
Shake it Out
Stand up. Take a deep breath. And then wiggle.
Wiggle your head, your arms, your hips.
Let your tongue flap around.
Let it out.
Let it goooooo.
There are times when we all get stuck in our own heads. And we start to trip over the simplest thing. The concept that should be a breeze to write. Those three words that should be so, so easy to read.
When you get to that moment, you need to banish it. Physically.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get silly!
(and while you're at it)
Shake it Off
In the immortal words of T. Swift, "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…"
And I promise you...they will. I am a woman who worked in sports for most of her career. Haters are not shy.
And if you have any success at all – even the tiniest amount of success, they're gonna let you know about everything they think is wrong with you.
Here are some of the lovely things people have written in to say about me.
"She sounds like a robot. I'm pretty sure Stephen Hawking's computer could have done a better job."
"My wife and I have agreed, if we hear her giggle one more time, we're never listening to your show again."
"She sounds like she belongs in a late night dating commercial."
(I'm pretty sure that last one was meant to be a compliment. But when you're trying to be a semi-serious journalist, comparisons to late night dating commercials don't feel good.)
And all of these things pop into my head as I'm writing. As I'm reading. As I'm recording interviews.
Am I being too stiff?
Am I having too much fun?
Do I sound too sexy?
The only thing to do -- the only possible way to get through -- is to focus on doing my job. Ignore the haters. Even when they might be right.
Because the truth is, during my first week in the hosting chair, I was terrified. I did sound a little robotic.
And I really do laugh more than I should.
(I can't help it! I genuinely find a lot of things funny.)
And yeah, it's totally true. My voice would sound good in a late night dating commercial.
But thinking about those things isn't going to make them go away. It's only going to make them worse.
So shake it off.
Shake, shake, shake – shake it off.
Congrats! You made it all the way down to the end of this newsletter.
Your reward, such as it is, is this. As of this writing, there are exactly three spots left in this Sunday's Narrative Beat workshop.
So, if you think you might want to snag one of those last three spots, click on the big blue button to find out more.