How Do We Fix It? What Your Voice Says About You.

   
Most people don’t like the sound of their own voice. Play back a recording and they cringe.

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

 

 

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Podcasting Movement:  Kind of Like Woodstock Without the Sex, Mud and Rock n Roll

  
Actress and comedian Aisha Tyler on podcasting:  “I do it because I love it”

I’m just back from Podcast Movement, the annual pep rally, support group and two-day college course for podcasters in Fort Worth.  Chances are you’ve never been to an industry show quite like this one.

1100 attendees paid $500 each, plus hotel and airfare, for an earnest and at times joyous lovefest.  Think Woodstock minus the sex, mud and rock & roll.  What a way to network: I came with nearly 200 business cards for my How Do We Fix It?  podcast, and left with only a handful. 

“Podcasters enjoy being together. They want to learn from the best in the industry,” says Jared Easley, co-founder of Podcast Movement. 

 Most were either wannabe podcasters, or newbies like me, looking to learn all they can about their chosen passion. They’re their own program directors, show hosts, engineers and sales team. Most of us here haven’t made a dime from our shows … yet.  

But hope springs eternal. It’s been a heck of a year for this chaotic, young online industry since the first, and much smaller, Podcast Movement conference that was held last summer.

Weeks ago, in late June, President Obama appeared in-person for an episode of WTF With Marc Maron, recorded in the comedian’s garage at his house in Los Angeles.

Since rolling out last fall, the hit show “Serial” has been downloaded an astonishing 94 million times. Its runaway success sparked a wave of mainstream media coverage about podcasting in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Saturday Night Live and many other places.  A playful video segment on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last fall featured Ira Glass of “This American Life,” and a woman in her late-80’s, describing how easy it was to listen to a podcast.

Marketers and tech firms are taking note of podcasting’s recent growth. Some companies sponsored booths and took part in Q & A sessions. Many programmers, marketers, equipment vendors and automobile manufacturers have beefed up their investments. Audible (owned by Amazon) is jumping into podcasting, and Apple embedded a purple podcast into the iOS operating system on iPhones and iPads. 

 “I do it because I love it,” declared actress and comedian Aisha Tyler, well-known for hosting “Whose Line Is It Anyway” on ABC. In a speech that was frequently interrupted by laughter, cheers and applause, Tyler spoke of her own success and struggles in making “Girl on Guy,” the four-year old weekly podcast, where she interviews her favorite male celebrity friends. “It is the purest expression of what I do,” she said. 

Another keynoter was Lou Mongello, author, host and producer of the WDW Radio Show podcast. He urged podcasters “to be passionate, persistent and patient about what you are doing.” 
The audience can hear the passion in your voice, Mongello told me. “Worrying about your microphone, your plug-ins and your software is secondary to finding your voice and finding your audience.”
 There are said to be roughly 300,000 podcasts in production today in The United States. From self-help to sales shows, comedy to current affairs, they include an astonishing range of subjects, formats and production standards.  

“For someone who’s interested in learning, or having a laugh because life is challenging, I think podcasting is an amazing blessing,” says conference organizer Jared Easley. “There are so many good and talented people who are putting so much time and energy into content.”

But will they make money? That was the uneasy question hanging over this event. There are only a small number of podcasts that give their creators anything like a comfortable living. 
The only safe bet is that an industry shakeout is coming.  But while podcasting is still fairly young and cool, it’s great fun to be along for the ride.  Kind of reminds me of the early days of FM rock radio, before the slick program consultants crashed the party.

Lessons I learned from “How Do We Fix It?” Podcast #1

  Developmental Psychologist Abigail Baird… Our first guest on our new podcast.


This is launch day, and there’s excitement in our house.  

I’m writing this on the morning of June 10th, two months to the day since I moved on from full-time employment as Business Correspondent and news anchor at ABC News Radio to work on my digital audio startup.

Our new weekly half-hour podcast, How Do We Fit It?, is now searchable on iTunes and other podcast sites.  There are four episodes so far with new ones being added each week.  Please subscribe! 

With a great deal of help from our fab producer, Miranda Shafer, we built a website that has lots of info on us and what we are up to.  We’re also posting photos on Instagram and thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.

My buddy, former Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief,  Jim Meigs, and I are both practical guys, impatient for solutions.  We’ve spent decades reporting the news, and want to move past tired old left vs. right rhetoric of yesterday to something new.

Instead of despair, our podcasts are about hope.  Each show is a lively conversation, built around a smart guest, who is known for fresh thinking and innovative ideas.

The expert we reached out to for our first show is Abigial Baird.  As Developmental Psychologist at Vassar College, Abi studies the teenage brain.  She’s a thinker and a doer – the proud mother of two young twins.

As dads and journalists, Jim and I know what a challenge technology presents for parents and kids.   Computers, video games and mobile devices are a huge temptation. But are they an obstacle or a great opportunity as children learn about the world? 

Here on our first show, Abi shares her humor, enthusiasm and wisdom as a caring parent and a whip-smart neuroscientist.  We learned a lot listening to her.  We think you will too!

Please download and subscribe to our podcasts.  If you like what you hear, share us on social media.  We’d very much like to read your suggestions for new shows.

We are public radio without the N P R.  Thanks for being part of our brand-new community.

A Brand New Journey: From Network News to Startup

April 10, 2015. My final daily newscast at ABC News Radio

29 years as a network radio news correspondent is enough. The clock has run out on my oath of impartiality.

During my time at ABC, and before that at RKO, CNN, the BBC, IRN and LBC, (why are most networks acronyms?) I took that oath seriously, and was lucky enough to be a eyewitness to history. I covered presidential campaigns, foreign wars, OPEC conferences, the near collapse of the financial system and two royal weddings.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall in the heady days of November 1989 to the streets of New York on that dreadful morning of 9/11, I tried to be as fair and as objective as possible.

Now I’m free to say what I think.  And I have a lot to say in this blog and on the radio.

You will disagree with some stuff, but hopefully I won’t be blowhard.  We have more than enough of that already. No one is right always, and if my time as a reporter has taught be anything it is that all of us are at least somewhat flawed and a little bit foolish. 

What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises,”  the great New York Times correspondent John F. Burns wrote last weekend in a retirement column summing up what he learned while reporting from “some of the nastiest places in the world.”

Unlike John Burns I made a lousy war reporter. The things I carried back included a view that a measure of ideology is vital for any democracy.

But I passionately agree that “it can be depressing beyond words to hear the loyalists of every political creed – whether of the left of of the right – adopt the unyielding certainties common in totalitarian states.”

Wisdom can be found in unlikely places. But our public square has too often become an echo chamber for narrow, angry rhetoric.

The internet was supposed to open us up to a vast array of new information sources.  But instead most of us have used it to retreat into our cozy cultural bubbles.

It’s time to listen with respect to those who make us uncomfortable. Successful business leaders and entrepreneurs know this already. The chattering classes are lagging behind.

This may be hopelessly wrong, but I believe the marketplace for snarky, rigid, and negative rhetoric has reached a low water mark.

I’m setting up shop as a solutions guy.  A podcast called “How Do We Fix It?” will be launched next month and a talk radio show may follow. As I said at the end of my last newscast at ABC, “thanks for listening.”