Tightening up


Put on a set of headphones and sit down in front of a microphone and your voice changes.

You almost can’t help it. One minute you’re casually talking to a friend and then you decide it’s time to start recording your podcast and you gear up and all of a sudden you aren’t so casual any more.

The best podcasters sound casual and conversational. They sound like themselves. They don’t sound as if they are "on the radio". I’ve been producing audio for a long time and here are a few tricks I use.

First, I’m not talking to the microphone. I’m talking to someone and the microphone is capturing my voice. My focus is not on the microphone or on reaching it. My focus is on reaching the person on the other side of that microphone—my listener. I have a really clear idea of who that person is.

In my early days in radio I moved from one radio station to another. At one station I was having trouble finding my voice. A colleague suggested that I hang a picture of a friend on the console just on the other side of the microphone and talk to them. It worked. I was just telling my friend what songs we’d just heard and what events were coming to town that we might want to go to together.

I shared another trick with a friend who is getting into podcasting. I told him to put one earphone on and leave the other off. There are technical reasons for doing so when podcasting, but also if you only hear your voice through the headphones you push it in unnatural ways. You might make it resonate more or push it deeper. All of a sudden your focus isn’t on the conversation you’re having it’s on the sound of your voice. You. Your show should be about the listener.

It’s the same thing when you’re writing your book. You talk to friends about the ideas in the book. You explain the concepts conversationally and then you turn to your computer and start to type and all of a sudden your voice changes. You are writing a book. You start to sound like an author and not like yourself anymore. It’s your radio voice.

Talk to your one friend as you write. You’re in the middle of explaining something to them and realize that now they can do something really cool with the technology you’re teaching them. How would you tell them that if they were in the room with you? Start with those words and we can formal them up later if we need to.

I might say to a friend "safe travels." I would never use the words that my "Houston based flight crew" used this morning as we landed. They urged me to "have a safe and pleasant journey to the city of my final destination."

This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.