Finding your voice: recording tips for mic-shy podcasters

A friend that I got interested in the podcasting revolution wrote me and gave giving recording time-shifted digital audio a try.  Not surprisingly he was sheepish and self-critical not only about the finished product, but of the voicing process in general.  Take it from me, because I do it all - recording for the first time, or the 1,000th time, can be a daunting experience if you're not comfortable with yourself. 

I already had several years of mainstream broadcasting and new media experience under my belt voicing radio & TV scripts when I did my first podcast, and I still was very uneasy with the whole thing.  The biggest hurdle to overcome is the fact that you're talking into a lone PC with no one else around.  Being a marketing guy, this was particularly unnerving for me, with my public speaking comfort zone being in front of hundreds of people, whose reactions I could read and feed off of.  Being all alone in a room with no feedback mechanism was very...scary.  For others, this is better.

But regardless what type of public speaking you're most comfortable with, consider the following hints to making your podcasts sound better, to the enjoyment of your audience/subscribers.

  • Just be yourself.  This is so often said, but realistically the hardest thing to do if you're new behind the mic.  But think about it: what better way to be comfortable than to be yourself?  Use your own voice, your own humor, your own personality, and let that be the presence you establish in the podosphere.  If doing this still is bothersome, you might want to try the following two tips...
  • Don't talk like you would in real life.  Often, broadcasters will develop a new, more authoritative James Earl Jones-ish voice when they're on the air, and the same principle applies for recording a podcastable MP3.  You get used to sounding like some other person, which psychosomatically makes you an "actor" (I used this approach early on in my career), and you lose the self-consciousnes that limits yoiu from truly being yourself during a recording session.  Just like writers who assume a ghost name, you create an alter-ego of yourself and be that person.
  • Copy someone you like.  Find a podcaster or mainstream broadcaster who's voice you'd like to emulate and do just that (when I got started, I copied my favorite communicator, former ESPN and current MSNBC host Keith Olbermann).  There's nothing wrong with trying to copy someone else's style, especially if they've been successful at it - they're probably doing something right.  When you do this, you're own personality will slowly start to come out, and inevitably take over.  Then you'll have a voice and style all your own.
  • Be arrogant when you read.  You may feel weird acting pompous, but being a little vain when you read comes off sounding like confident.  In my experience, 90% of vanity is in facial expression & body language, so ego is more present in visual mediums like video than audio and in print.
  • Be sarcastic when you read.  If you're the type of person who has natural humor and ask a lot of intriguing and natural questions, it doesn't hurt to factor this into your dialogue.  It'll sound better for the inquisitive stuff.
  • Posture makes a difference.  When you record, sit properly & upright.  This allows air to flow more freely through your esophagus and projects your voice better.  It also lets you take longer, deeper breaths and reduces the saliva flow to your lower lip (I've learned this through practice).
  • SMILE!  This sounds so Care Bear-ish, but a positive attitude does make a difference in your cast.  It also does improve the intonational quality of your show if you force yourself to smile while reading or saying something.  Doing so makes your voice brighter and more authoritative.

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