Commercial Radio Presenters have always known the pressure of being allowed to talk, for only a certain time. Over the years it has been my job to get the most out of a presenter that has to talk for only 2 minutes. Or 30 seconds. Or 10 seconds. Or 3 seconds.
In that time it’s a radio presenter’s job to get you to listen for 15 minutes more (this is to do with how audience figures are collated). It’s not easy.
Now many presenters struggled, complaining that they couldn’t get the story in in-that time. I spent many hours and days explaining that in that short time they should be thinking “what CAN I do?” Rather than “What can’t I get done?” There is nothing like a time limit to make you self edit – but self-editing is hard.
Then one day a presenter who had been resistant, bounded up to me and with a real glint in his eye said: “Kate! I listened to my Friday show and I tell you what, this shorter link thing is amazing. When you hear my voice it’s like, boom!”
He clapped his hands together “Impact!”
Making every word count is not a new concept, Mark Twain said: “I’m sorry this letter is long, but I didn’t have the time to make it short”. And the Twitter age has had us working out how to edit our complex emotions down to 140/250 characters for some time now.
It’s still not easy. So here are some tips to self edit your content.
- Remove all mitigating language
Too many words get in the way of your message.
When you look at a painting the warmer colours (yellows, oranges, reds) attract the eye first. So if you want the eye drawn to a certain part of the canvas you paint some red in that spot. But if you paint the whole canvas red, it’s just red – and nothing else stands out.
Words are the same. Too many words, and too much detail is an ineffective way of getting someone to hear your point. You are saying everything and nothing.
The first thing to do is to get rid of any wasted words:
I was thinking that
Does that make sense?
Not only do they fill in space that needs to be cleared, but they also undermine your point.
- Rehearse and hear it back
Nothing beats rehearsal and listening back to spot where an edit is required.
Record yourself on your phone, and listen back. Film yourself on your phone, and watch it back. Even practising in front of another human gets you to hear yourself back.
Trust me – you will hear your edit immediately. I usually find myself yelling “oh shush will you” at myself. And then I just hammer out the words.
- Get to the point as quickly as you can
Helen Zaltzman-Austwick is the Queen Of Podcasters. I saw her speak at a live event a couple of years ago and she advised the audience of eager podcast makers: “Start as late in the story as possible”.
The biggest mistake people make is to over explain the set up and give too much context. The story doesn’t start with the set up, it starts with the problem. The set up literally gives your audience the reason to keep listening to you.
It’s the same with any point you wish to make. Never make your boss wait 45 minutes before you deliver the point of your presentation. Get into your point as soon as you can.
Use these three tips to be heard, and create an impact in these noisy times.
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.
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.
Serial Season 1: All through this season you are listening to see if someone is lying. It’s all in the vocal tone
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.