But the good news for wannabe podcasters and public speakers is that vocal mechanics don’t matter nearly as much they one did.
We live in a visual age and a much greater range of voices and accents is perfectly acceptable. Think of well-known public radio hosts or TV news anchors who have less-than-perfect and, sometimes, even irritating voices.
You don’t need to have the rich, smooth tones that Peter Dinklage brings to his role as Tyrian Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” or the professional panache of Dame Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey”.
Actors do need vocal lessons, especially for theater performances. But long gone are the days when male radio announcers sounded like the Voice Of God, reading from stone tablets on the mountaintop.
As a very young reporter in 1980, I was told by a broadcast news executive that I “didn’t have the pipes” for a job in network radio. I was crushed. I still have his dismissive comment that was scratched in pencil at the bottom of my application letter.
My lucky break came a couple of years later, when women broadcasters crashed the party and changed radio forever. Their hard-won victories also allowed tenors like me to slip through the door. No more need for guy vocal fry. Once I finally realized what was going on, I didn’t have to pretend that I had a bass voice that was far deeper than the one I was born with.
The same is true today for women. Authenticity is far more important than authority. You don’t need to “fry” or crackle your voice to get people to take you seriously.
In the 80’s, the first generation of women network news anchors were trend setters, bringing a much more relaxed, conversational style to the airwaves.
Once again, with the exciting growth of podcasting, vocal patterns are changing. There is now a premium on bringing your true self to the microphone. If you have something of value to say, people will listen, especially if it’s a compelling story. Content matters far more than if you speak with a foreign accent or have a high or low voice.
Most of us podcast fans have them, quite literally, in our ears. We listen alone with ear buds. It’s just you and the podcaster. No other medium is as intimate as this one.
I’m not suggesting that technique and tone don’t matter. At the first podability.com podcast boot camp during April in New York, I shared some of what I know about vocal performance. A few bullet points:
- Smile before you speak. Be grateful that you have something to say. Listeners can hear your enthusiasm.
- You set the tone for your podcast. A positive attitude puts your guests at ease. When interviewing, bring positive energy to your questions. Guests often take verbal cues from you.
- Getting a good night’s sleep and eating healthy improve the quality of your voice. Look after yourself.
- Many people gargle or drink a hot beverage before going into the studio. Techniques vary. Do an online search for “vocal exercises” and pick ones that work for you.
- Get your blood flowing. Bend and stretch before you switch on the microphone.
- If you stammer or have a pronounced lisp, you should get coaching. A vocal tick that gets in the way of clear communication is something that needs to be addressed.
What matters most is that you bring your own inner voice and experience to the table. As an Anglo-American, my accent and rhythm of speech often varies according to whom I speaking to. Years ago, I tried to rub this out and copy others. Now I believe that I was wrong.
All of us have our own unique soul. When podcasting, broadcasting or speaking in public, the bravest and best thing we can do is to bring our true self to the microphone.
For 29 years, Richard Davies worked as a news and business correspondent for ABC News. In 2015, he formed DaviesContent, a digital audio production and consulting firm. His podcast is the solutions show, “How Do We Fix It?“
Photo: Richard and whiteboard at Podability.com