Here’s the thing: people can tell when you are reading.
I should caveat that with: people can tell when you are reading unless you have done the work to be sure you don’t sound like you are reading.
My personal preference is that you should go without a script where you can, but the reality is that you will be reading a script at some point.
So if you are going to read from a script – how do you sound like you are talking rather than reading??
Check the Words
This is key to it sounding like you aren’t reading. The aim for all presenting is that you sound like you’re talking to your audience as if you were in the pub plus 10%. The language you use to write is significantly different to the spoken word.
When we write we use lots of words we don’t need. When we speak we get to the point quicker. We also write in the first person (I / we went to the pub) or the third person (she went to the pub). We we speak we use the first and second person (you).
When you write you tend to put descriptions up front and the subject last. When speaking the subject goes up front and then you may add some description after.
Written: However, this week the dynamic and hairy lead singer of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, did go to the post office
Spoken: “Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, went to the post office this week – which was surprising…”
It is worth going through your script and checking that it reads in a way that you would actually talk.
2. Read, Read, and Read Again
Chris Anderson says in his book “TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking” that most TED speakers write then memorise their talks. The rehearsal process of repetition makes it sound like you are speaking. And this is the case for those that purely rehearse rather than script too.
You will need to read a script at least 5 or 6 times before it sounds like it has become part of your spoken word.
3. Work Out Your Emphasis and Intonation
With reading written word, ironically, you need to put the natural emphasis and intonation back in. When I played the flute in orchestras we were regularly making notes all over our music, and for reading the written word, you need to do the same.
There is a fantastic technique called The Hudson Voice Technique, developed by the BBC voice over artist Steve Hudson. His technique includes two elements you can use really easily.
Firstly, pause at the end of your sentences (and even more so at the end of your points) and energise the beginning of the next sentence (point).
Secondly, mentally break the script up beyond the punctuation. In a sentence you are likely to find a bit of a natural lull every 3 to 4 words, then get your pencil and draw a line in hose breaks. This will help you slow up your reading so you are not racing ahead, and it will get you to think about where the emphasis is in a sentence.
Mostly, you need to find your natural voice rather than your natural voice, and to do that you can watch my video about finding your authentic voice here: https://youtu.be/ltnQy744B9g
In summary the pros of scripting is that you can remember what you are going to say, you can shorten your prep, and you can even delegate the writing part.
I wanted to leave you with this. I used to think that no script for speaking in public was the thing to aim for. Then I saw this great performance from Richard Huntington at Next Radio in 2016 https://youtu.be/8UIVpD5V0Xs and his energy made me wonder if you could do great presenting with a script in your hand.
“I am not good enough at this,” is what usually goes through your mind at a certain point of any creative project.
Usually right before the deadline.
When I am recording my Everyday Positivity links and I think “ugh why on earth is anyone going to like these?!”, or when I am halfway through a painting commission and I think “gah this isn’t how I wanted it to look! Why can’t I do it like Picasso?”, or most likely when I get to rehearsing my presentation so many times and I think “this just does not feel new enough – no one is going to like it!”
Inevitably on all counts, I make the piece, I show it to the audience and the feedback is great. I had nothing to worry about.
The problem: You get too close, and you get too saturated in it
In her book “Running Like A Girl” Alex Hemingsly recounts a dinner where her friends are asking her about the running she is doing for the book (for which the deadline is looming) and she loses it, having a massive strop about how she never wants to run again.
She got too close. She got too saturated.
Countless podcaster friends and event organiser friends and writer friends and broadcaster friends all tell of the moment where they think “I never ever want to do this again”!
They get too close. They get too saturated.
Inevitably they push through the feeling, and they create something wonderful with a huge adrenaline surge that makes them want to do it again (rather like giving birth where you forget the pain so you do it again – big THANKS hormones!)
An artist friend of mine once gave me some great advice about this feeling. She told me whenever I created a piece of art that I shouldn’t look at it for 6 weeks. “Art gets better in the drawers,” she said. Funnily enough writer Stephen King says something similar about the art of writing, in his book ‘On Writing’
If what you are doing feels like it’s rubbish, then it’s time to put some space and time between it. I record my Everyday Positivity a little in advance so when I hear it go out it could be a week since I recorded it. I am always pleasantly surprised by it – that it is much better than I thought it would be. Mostly because I have forgotten what I’ve said during the recording!
Space and time allow you to give yourself some useful feedback. Use it to get confident in your ability, to get self-aware, and improve your self-belief. Nine times out of ten a speaking client will watch themselves back and say “oh that’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be”. Space and time provide objectivity, it helps you to forget the nerves you felt in the cock-up, and look at how you could have dealt with it better.
So, if it’s not got better in the drawers, then you know you can work on the craft some more. If it has, you can stop berating yourself in the process.
At some point in history, someone told you that you were erm-ing too much. Someone did. Or maybe something happened to convince you that it was a bad thing. Or do we just know instinctively, because ERM is the word most people are afraid of?
Let’s get one thing clear: To “erm” is human. To “erm” repeatedly when you are trying to make a point, can become distracting.
As with all vocal or physical gestures, once you start repeating them THAT’s when they become annoying.
Remember how you saw that guy talking about podcasting at an event and he said “yeh so the audience got so big that I make a living out of this now” and your brain goes: “ooooh maybe I could make a living out of this”… so you make your podcast, you do the work, you put it out there and you wait…
How do you attract listeners? How do you grow your audience? And how on earth do you earn a living out of it?
Over the summer I launched “Everyday Positivity” on Amazon Echo. It’s daily audio, up to 2 minutes, of me doing a piece that breathes positivity into your day with tips, techniques, pep talks, stories. (If you are a radio person it’s basically a “link” every day). I like to think of it a bit like a modern-day “Thought for the Day” with a Life Hack vibe to it.
For the last 4 months, it’s only been available as a Flash Briefing, on the Amazon Echo. As I write this we have just launched as a podcast on “your podcast provider”. I wanted to capture and share with you the audience growth learnings so far from being in this unique, quality controlled space.
To grow audience then:
Get in the space early / Be unique
I jumped on the opportunity to put Everyday Positivity on to Amazon Echo as there’s not much on there at the moment. It reminds me of podcasting about 5 years ago, when the mutterings were that podcasts were good but you know “who’s gonna listen”? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I am hopeful that by owning some of that original space I can grow a tribe of people who feel like they are part of the movement, and I love them dearly.
I’ve watched many podcasts grow from nothing because they have the benefit of original space. Eggchasers (Mr Cs podcast) was the first Rugby Podcast like it 5 years ago. He treated it like it was a job, and 5 years later he is surrounded by similar podcasts, with big-name presenters, and his podcast is holding strong.
But what do you do if you missed the original space already? My advice would be to just start.
Be unique: Everyday Positivity is short form, and could only be done by me because I use my personal experiences and loves.
Be consistent with your delivery: eg every Monday or monthly, or daily. And commit to a period of time.
Be consistent with your value to your listener: work out your why/mission and stick to it.
2. Get boosts: use influencers and influential platforms
In terms of the growth graph what you should generally see (as long as you are consistent, of value to your listener and you are marketing through the normal channels) is a steady climb. But then there are some things that give you an audience boost, and the climb should then continue again at the same steady rate.
To make “Everyday Positivity” I work with Volley, and they also have a Flash Briefing called “Word of the Day” – it has a huge audience. When I guest on Word of the Day we get a lovely boost in audience. Then we maintain the same growth rate we did before.
Influencers also have an impact. I worked on the weekly Love Island podcast “Undercover Lover” over the summer. We were seeing good listenership until one week it went a bit bonkers. An Instagrammer with a large following had locked themselves out of their house and on their Insta story said they were sat on their doorstep listening to “Undercover Lover”.
Not only did the podcast see the growth that week, but it also impacted on Everyday Positivity too as the presenter of Undercover Lover had Instagrammed about that!
As an aside this “boost and steady” growth is consistent with other platforms. When you look at the graph of BBC Radio 6 Music listenership over the years there is a steady climb, then the station was threatened with shut down, and the listenership got a huge boost. The PR from the outraged listeners was unexpected but saved the station, and then some. They haven’t had a boost like it since, but the steady climb has continued and it’s consistently one of the UK’s top DAB Radio Stations in terms of audience.
3. Get reviews
Launching a podcast is hard work, and the temptation to get in the charts means that you are good at asking for reviews at the start but it tails off. It also feels weird asking for reviews, a little pushy.
The thing is reviews, and 5 star at that, make you more findable*, especially in the Amazon world. So you need to be clear about what you want the audience to do, and why.
I’ve seen success around regularly asking, being honest “you reviews mean that more people can find this Flash Briefing and we can spread positivity far and wide” and being instructional “click on the link and leave a 5 star review – it’s quick and easy”. As always clarity on why and how rules.
I’ll say it time and time again, these tricks work, but consistent growth comes from the consistent performance: delivery and quality. Volley and I work hardest at making sure that Everyday Positivity is there every day when you wake up, and I try to make it so that every episode is fresh and adds value to the audience. Plus, I just really love it. I love the listeners, and I feel like together we can change the world for the better. That’s a pretty good “why” right?
One word has the power to undermine your authority.
The presenter on the radio is telling a story about how he came out of his house to find someone had sprayed hummus over his car. “Hummus?” He said “That’s a very Waitrose style vandalisation! I have arrived” He let it hang… then said the one word that makes me scream at the radio…
I screamed at the radio.
As a presenter, you are an authority.
When you say “Anywaaayy” you are undermining yourself.
It’s one thing to be self-deprecating, or to lose track, but when you are telling your story the word “Anywayyy” gets right in the way.
The solution: just pause and move on to the next thing. Use something else to get you out – some audio, some music, or if you are presenting on stage a new slide.
It often transpires that the presenter hasn’t fully thought the story through, or they didn’t quite believe the story or what they are saying. Have confidence in your content. Make sure you do the prep. And remember just cos you can’t hear them laughing doesn’t mean they aren’t (and that goes for if you can see your audience or not).
When I start many of my video calls I am met with a face of fear as the mic their end isn’t working and they can’t hear me. Then there is a lot of flapping while I am mouthing the instructions at them. Then sometimes people call for the resident tech person and there is more flapping as I watch them blush their way through explaining what they need. Then they find the one button I had been trying to tell them to use and it all of a sudden works, and we are all very relieved.
I see this all the time. Like when I watch people try to present in meeting rooms. You are guaranteed that the console NEVER works when you need it to. You get your laptop out, find the lead you think it is, and you plug it in. “It worked yesterday,” you say to the team. But this time it doesn’t work. So you flap because this is the start of the meeting and you need to get on and you have NO IDEA what to do. You call the resident tech person who sorts it in 2 easy clicks of a button, and everyone is relieved.
Whatever situation you are in, when you speak in public there will be technology to deal with. But for a lot of people, this is a real barrier. Panicking when you see a sound desk in a radio studio can stop you from achieving your dream to be a broadcaster. Not knowing what to do with the PowerPoint set up can add to your nerves before your presentation. And not knowing how to set up your camera can mean that YouTube Channel is never going to happen.
Here is your 4 step guide to becoming a tech whiz;
1. Be Positive and Roll With It
Online Business Guru, Marie Forleo says that when it comes to technology it’s all about “Attitude Not Aptitude”.
Often we tell ourselves we are no good at technology because when it goes wrong we don’t know what to do. More often than not it then goes wrong. Let’s get real though: Tech is bound to go wrong, it’s probably not all your fault, but the solution isn’t coming any quicker if you panic! Just roll with it.
I remember when I was sat upstairs at BBC Radio 6 Music and a pre-recorded show misfired the news. We ran downstairs and started troubleshooting. The best thing for us to do was let the Emergency CD kick in. We all stood there calmly as the silence played for long enough for the CD to kick in. Those few seconds felt like an age! I remember feeling a surge of calm control as the music kicked in and we were able to then work out what to do next.
Before you knew it we were back on air and all was well again. The listeners barely noticed.
It taught me that staying calm and not flapping is the most productive state you can be in, in that situation.
2. Have a Plan B
So the slides stop working in your presentation, or the audio won’t play. Use it as an excuse to tell another story while it’s being sorted. Or go and grab a drink. Or have a line ready for you to get back on track. As part of your prep beforehand, have a plan B for what happens if something falters. Remember if you are comfortable, then the audience is comfortable.
Make sure you always have your presentation on a memory stick, audio on your phone, a Bluetooth speaker, spare batteries – whatever it is that means you can cover for the fact that the tech in the location isn’t working.
3. Keep Checking
If you are filming or recording a podcast with a guest, never leave without checking the audio has recorded. I have had presenters go and record the interviews of their life,
notably with Madonna and with Arctic Monkeys. They return to the station to find they pressed stop instead of record! Keep checking throughout that you are recording and at the end check it’s recorded and sounds OK before you leave the building.
4. Learn It
Take some time to get familiar with the equipment around you. We rely so much on the settings being right and hoping that the tech will just work. Get your resident engineer or tech expert to show you how to do it once and for all. Draw pictures, ask questions. Gather an understanding of inputs and outputs and you’ll find you can troubleshoot a lot of situations.
Also, know your cables. Last week I got a projector with an Ethernet cable plugged into it as if it was an input. I couldn’t get it out! It was in the wrong hole!
And knowing the difference between a phono and a jack will mean you can get the engineer to help you – because you then know some of their language!
Tech is easier than you think, and a bit of training on the fundamentals can really help you in the future.
On that note: If you are a podcaster or budding radio producer/presenter who wants to get a really good grounding in sound, AND get your audio to sound high quality then check out Tech Train 2.0 that I am putting on with Broadcast Engineer Ann Charles in December in Manchester.
It’s for women in radio/podcasting who want to feel like they know what they are doing, and it will help you become completely unflappable. Find out more and get your tickets here.
And have you ever wondered why your other half is defending themselves even before you’ve asked them the simplest question?!
The answer is in …..Your Voice
Your impact is defined by how you use your voice, in any environment. Getting it right will change your life.
So, here are some tips to “change your life”
1. Pause and Emphasise
There is a technique called the Hudson Technique where you learn to end a sentence, pause, and emphasise the beginning of the next sentence. Letting your thoughts and words run into each other is exactly how to lose your listeners. This is especially true when you are moving between topics. So to keep your listener’s attention you have to start with an energetic word or phrase to indicate “this is new”. And you can use the power of the pause to build up the emphasis.
You will well know that the one thing that gets your attention most these days is silence. Think about what it is that makes you actually look at the radio?!
2. Sing Song
Your voice has a natural melody. Except when we are under pressure (like in a talk) we can lose the melody or over use the melody entirely. In his TEDx Talk Vocal Coach Roger Love talks about the fact that staying monotonous means your audience just knows what is coming. He talks about embracing the melody in “going up the stairs” and “coming down the stairs”. How one implies happy, and one implies sad.
You can watch it here:
3. Use Your Face to be Believable
When you are doing a serious pieces: frown and it will make you sound serious. When you are doing a happy piece, or you need energy: smile – you won’t believe the difference in a smile! And then there is just plain believing in what you are saying. The reality is that you will have to talk about something you either don’t really fully understand, or don’t care about. At this point you must deploy self reflection. Engaging with either what you know to be true about what you are talking about, or engaging some empathy around what you are talking about, can help you to believe in what you are saying.
4. Self Care
Your voice is a muscle, that is part of your body, and it needs to be cared for. Some people when they get overworked and overtired – it shows in their voice. The vocal cords take a hammering. I’m not suggesting that you start getting all diva honey and lemon over your voice. I am suggesting that you can remember to rest, to stand tall, to allow your lungs the space to breathe, to breathe properly, to stay hydrated and one final tip to keep your vocal cords in check: hum. Hum around the house, and wherever you can. The vibrations are supposed to help keep the muscles strong and lubricated!
Use your voice to create impact and engage your audience, and you can sweep them off their feet.
I used to be the boss of a freelancer who was a master persuader, they regularly got what they wanted from others.
I was often on the receiving end of personal requests that usually went like this: “Please could I leave a bit early today because I have to get home to receive a delivery of some drawers” “Yeh sure” I would reply. “Please could I skip the post show meeting tomorrow because I have to get over to another meeting at 1030.” “Yeh sure” I would reply. I would let the rest of the team know and they would roll their eyes that I had said yes yet again, and I would find myself trying to convince them that going home for a delivery was important. (I can feel you rolling your eyes too). You won’t believe the trick this freelancer was using… I’m currently training to become an NLP Practitioner, and I’ve reached the module on the language of persuasion. One of the key ways to persuade is to communicate the cause and effect of what it is you are trying to achieve. The most powerful word you can use then is: BECAUSE.
Read it again: “Please could I leave a bit early today because I have to get home to receive a delivery of some drawers”
“Yeh sure” I would reply. A study looked at people trying to push in a queue for the photocopier. If you just asked to go before someone they would say no. If you asked to go ahead of someone “because, and then gave your reason” you would inevitably end up further up the queue. It’s worth noting that the reason often is irrelevant… hence of course I was saying “yeh sure”.
When talking to an audience, your boss, new clients, any one you are trying to persuade, using “Cause and Effect” can help you then get what you want from them.
Communicating the benefit to your audience will always help them along. So, if you are trying to get your audience to enter a competition: “Text me now because I have a <prize> you could win…” “Text me now so that you are in to win…” “When you text in, then you could win….” Side note: When my kids were little they were taught to sell “because” as their first “tricky word” with this mnemonic: Big Elephants Always Understand Small Elephants. It always makes me smile.
Are you finding that you aren’t having the impact you want with your audience?
It could be that you are not using your voice with impact. You will have noticed how hard it is to listen to someone who talks in one monotonous tone; loud, high or low. In fact sometimes with no intonation it sounds like the speaker does not care about their subject. This is a sure fire turn OFF for the audience.
I am sure you’ve heard that low vocal tone has more gravitas than high vocal tone. I am sure someone has said to you that you need to slow down your speech to gather impact. These are things we hear about all the time, but actioning it is difficult.
There are more factors though: I also include projection, pausing, the sing song in your voice and emphasis in your presentation to create impact.
There is one podcast I always recommend to my clients as a fine example of how to use your voice.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Dan Carlin is one of the podcasting stalwarts, one of the greats. His podcast episodes can stretch up to 5 or 6 hours, of just him speaking. He tells stories from history, using artefacts and evidence so that the voices of the past come alive. He does a great job of putting the stories of the past into your world, so they feel relevant.
But my favourite thing about his presentation style is his use of his voice.
Have a listen, and note how he pauses, his energy, his pace (he speeds up and slows down), the way he puts emphasis on certain elements. His work is a masterclass.
Here’s The Thing: Ira Glass – this specific podcast has Alec Baldwin talking to This American Life overlord Ira Glass talking about how long it took him to find his voice, and how to be authentic rather than to take on that “NPR” style. Listen to that episode here.
I hear this a lot. Often it’s something that’s said to avoid a difficult conversation, or an uncomfortable situation in the office. It’s a limiting belief that can mean inauthentic relationships are formed, and that progress on a project is halted.
A few weeks ago I used Emma Willis’ example of holding Roxanne Pallet to account as a “comfortable confrontation”. Emma used some of the techniques I talk about in this article.
For radio presenters “I don’t do confrontation” is the reason given for not holding guests or contributors to account. It’s understandable to feel that way, as you are often thankful for contributors and guests being on your show. Asking difficult questions feels unfair, out of character or ungrateful.
The reality is that difficult conversations are likely to happen every single day on air, or in the office. Here are some of the tips I give to help you through that unavoidable awkwardness, and to get the best from the guest.
1. Make sure you know what you want
Make sure you have a good understanding of what you want out of the conversation before you enter in to it. Set your intent. It might be to be kind, or to get the answers that your audience (or you) deserve. As a result, you will have to ask the question that plays devil’s advocate to get the answer you want.
When interviewing someone on the radio about a Cheese Festival the question: “So what are the reasons people like cheese?” Would get you so far. But “why are you celebrating cheese, it’s just a silly piece of dairy isn’t it?” Could get you a stronger, more interesting answer.
2. Check your language
If going at it directly like this is too uncomfortable, you can distance yourself in your language to take the emotion and the personal attack out of it.
Firstly – argue the idea, evidence or behaviour, not the person. The minute you go to personal language like “you’re an idiot for thinking what you think” you have lost the productivity of the conversation.
A therapist of mine suggested to me to use the word “I” in conflict, rather than “you”. In broadcasting I am constantly telling people to use the word “you” as a way to engage their listener. It’s the most powerful word you can use for this. But in the context of difficult conversations it can be a useful tool to use I: “What I am seeing is <example> behaviour which is implying to me…” rather than “You are a really difficult person”.
On the radio it works to use phrases like “Some people might say that this is a silly Festival for Cheese – is it?” or. “What do you say to someone who says that thinks this Festival is a silly idea?”
3. Agreeing is Partial (not Impartial)
I recently spent a day coaching new radio presenters, practicing their interview technique. Their brief was to remain impartial. Presenter after presenter interviewed their contributor consistently grateful, constantly agreeing with them and guess what – it was dull. That may be unfair, but I didn’t really learn anything from the interviews. It is a common mistake to think that impartiality sits in agreeing. It’s actually the opposite.
In the on air interview, or if you are hosting a panel, it is your job to make sure you are covering the information from all angles. Using the language above (e.g. “Some people might say…”) you can put forward an opinion that may not be yours, without having to attach yourself to it. This can make the feeling of confrontation a little easier.
My husband really enjoys a debate. One time we agreed that we would go out on a family day out at 11am. At about 10.30 he and his aunt got locked into a debate about politics of some sort. We all sat there till 1pm till they came to their conclusion.
I mean, he REALLY loves a debate.
I used to hate it. My skin would crawl. I’d feel shame and discomfort. I would want to hide. And let’s be honest, no one really wants to sit around for 2 hours while you’re waiting for a heated discussion to be finished!
But then I wondered what would happen if I leaned in to it. He loves it, I would be gutted if he dismissed one of the things I love. So I decided to try joining in, rather than shutting it down, and use it as a means of practice. For some people they like the opportunity to intellectually spar, and it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about learning.
Even so, it’s so hard not to get emotional, or take it personally! But with him, I am in a safe space. He knows me, I can get my words wrong, I can correct myself, I can practice what it is to be devil’s advocate, to call things out I don’t agree with. The outcome is I am getting better at forming my words and questions in what can be an emotional state & I am better at speaking up in other situations too. And, I think my husband and I have actually found a place to connect a little more.
So find someone to practice with.
I have had to fire people, I have had to deal with getting people to realise they are making mistakes, and I have had to deal with conversations about my own work and behaviour that have been really tough. In every situation the one piece of advice that has helped is this: it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable.
For years I thought there was “a way” to make the uncomfortable, comfortable. There are ways to make things less uncomfortable, but some conversations are always going to be difficult.
Once I embraced the discomfort, I was able to come to terms with understanding that conflict can be a route to growth, that it was something to practice and commit to getting to a more interesting place.