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How to use tone to connect with your audience

 

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Presenting your podcast

Last week I spoke about how your choice of words can make a big difference to the connection you have with your audience and this week I’m going to talk about the other element of good presentation – tone.

When you’re hosting a show that’s audio only, tone becomes even more important and can be the difference between a listener saying “Wow, she seems like a really nice person” and “What a dick.”

So how can you control it?

Think about your intention

The truth is you can intellectualise tone all you want but at the end of the day, if your intention for doing the show doesn’t match what you want your listeners to think about it, you’ll be found out pretty quick.  If, in your heart of hearts, you’re really only podcasting because you want to get your voice and name out there, it doesn’t matter how many times you say “I’m doing this to help people” your tone will give you away.

People aren’t stupid and just like you can sniff a shonk a mile off in real life, the same is true when you’re presenting.  Even if you’ve got sweet acting skills there’s only so long you can keep up the facade when you’re doing a show week in week out and if your listeners get a whiff of anything disingenuous (and they will) they’ll be outta there.

Ultimately your reasons for doing the show will be yours alone but whatever they are you have to be honest with your audience if you want them to stick around.

Personality

Your personality is what listeners become attached to so one of the biggest mistakes when you’re starting out is trying to copy someone else’s.  Emulating the style and audio mannerisms of someone who’s already successful won’t ever play well with an audience because it just sounds sad. The bottom line is you’ll always be better off being the full strength version of yourself than the lite version of someone else.

The other thing to be mindful of is that presenting to an empty room can throw a wet blanket over your personality because it’s hard to get that natural conversational energy into your voice if there isn’t another warm body sitting across from you.  One of the ways to combat this is to think about talking to one person as your hosting your show, rather than talking to a bit metal in front of your face (read more about that here).

And once you’ve thrown off the wet blanket and made sure the personality under there is yours the last thing to think about is that you need to be you….with 15% sprinkled on top.  That doesn’t mean you need to whip out the audio jazz hands but you do have to bring an energy to your voice that you probably wouldn’t put in if you were chatting with your mates in the pub.  That extra bit of somethin’ somethin’ is what makes up for the fact you can’t look into your listeners eyes or use your body language to engage with them and while it might seem silly at first it’s important to remember that while it’s supposed to sound like a natural conversation, presenting is still a performance.  That extra 15% will burn off by the time it gets to your listeners so they’ll hear a natural version of you but if you don’t add it your presentation will sound dull.

Adding smile to your voiceOne way to do this is by adding ‘smile’ to your voice, which you do, oddly enough, by smiling.  Please don’t add so much that people think they’ve tuned into the Mickey Mouse Club but smiling as you present will help bring a warmth and energy into your voice that your listeners will really connect with.

Tip: If there’s an element of your personality you want your listeners to get from your show write it down on a piece of paper and have it in front of you while you’re presenting.  It’s amazing the difference it’ll make when you’ve got your ideal show tone top of mind.

Projection

A lot of people assume because they’re talking into a microphone there’s no need to project and while you don’t need to yell you do need to speak in a way that’s designed to get into people’s ears.  This is where your headphones come in handy.  When I’m presenting I’m always thinking more about the end product I’m hearing than what’s coming out of my mouth and adjusting things accordingly.

Breathing through your diaphragm rather than taking short, shallow breaths will help with this, as will getting closer to the mic so you have more control. Essentially, what you want to inject into your voice is power rather than volume. Even when you’re whispering you still need to project so pop on the headphones and get practicing.

Just like standing in front of a crowd you want to capture people’s attention and the only way to do that is to make sure your voice comes to them rather than their ears having to come to you.

Pitch

When I was a teenager I sang in a lot of choirs and one day before a big Eisteddford one of the girls stopped everyone as we were walking out on stage and said: “Hold on!  We can’t go out until Rachel injects her testosterone!” Hilarious.

While I copped a lot of flack for it back then, these lower tones have served me well in my broadcast career because as a general rule, lower pitched voices are easier to listen to than higher ones.  That doesn’t mean you need to start pumping the testosterone, R Corbett style, but it’s important if you do have a higher voice to be mindful it doesn’t slip into dog-whistle territory when you get excited.

The natural range of your voice will obviously have a lot to do with what you’re born with but you do have a lot more control over it than you realise and varying your pitch is a great way to tell a story with your voice and keep your listeners interested.  Just be mindful of not going too far because if your presentation style gets too sing-songy it will sound like you’re talking to a bunch of preschoolers and patronising your audience is never going to get you in their good books.

At the end of the day your voice is an instrument so it’s important to use it like one.

Pace

Pace is an important part of presentation but something you really need to think about if you want to control it.  The general rule of pace is you’ll always feel like you’re speaking slower than you are and the faster you speak the more nervous you sound (and the more nervous you’ll make your listeners).

How to use tone to engage your audienceThere’s no better way to sound in control than slowing down.  So if you want to appear like you know your shit (even if you’re crapping yourself)…pump the breaks.  If, however, you’d like to sound like you’re leaving the scene of an audio crime by all means, speed up.

There’s a lot you can do with pace – slowing down to emphasise key points and build drama,  speeding up to get your audience excited – and when you use it in conjunction with the other elements it can really help keep your listeners interested.

Pause

This is one of my favourite tools and one that scares the crap out of people but it’s a great way to build suspense, create drama and most importantly help your listeners absorb what you’re saying.   Particularly if you’re podcast is designed to teach, pausing can give your audience a chance to catch up so you’re all on the same page.

When you’re behind the microphone silence will always feel longer than it is, so don’t be afraid of it.  A couple of seconds here and there can put your listeners at ease and help them process what you’re saying as well as create anticipation for what’s coming next and surely that’s worth a bit of terror on your part.

And there you have it, some more tools for your communication toolbox so you can present your podcast in a way that keeps your listeners engaged from start to finish.

Right, I’m off to inject my testosterone.

Find out more about how to improve your presenting style in my online podcasting course – PodSchool.

2 Comments
  1. Liz VV says:

    Hi Rachel
    I just watched you on the Australia Day Today Show panel in your awesome blue dress and then stalked you on google when your podschool title came up! Love your article and definitely will take onboard these tips in my podcast Being Indispensable which has been going since June last year. I have definitely struggled with some of the issues you identify including adopting the ‘I know my shit that’s why I’m using this really serious voice’ but thankfully I think I’ve put that behind me:) Podcast is still a work in progress but I will now have your blog as another part of my Brains Trust!!

    Thanks and keep up the great content:)

    Oh by the way – who took your photos for your site…they are AMAZING???!!!

    1. rcorbett says:

      Hey Liz. Thanks so much for taking the time to find me and I’m really glad you’ve found the resources on my blog helpful. Like anything, podcasting and presenting takes a while to master but the first step is actually giving it a crack so congrats on your show! Thanks for the kind words about my photos and the dress as well (it’s David Lawrence btw). The shots were taken by a good friend of mine, Jess Walsham. She’s an awesome photographer who’s brilliant at making you feel comfy in front of the camera (which is great if you’re like me and hate having your photo taken or somehow always manage to look dead behind the eyes ;). If you ever need photos, I highly recommend her – http://www.joyessimages.com/

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