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How to use tone to connect with your audience

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Presenting a podcast is more than just the words you say

Last week I wrote 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, s/he seems like a really nice person” and “Wow!  What a dick.”

So what can you do to make sure you’re not the latter?

Think about your intention

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 believe, you’ll be found out pretty quick.

If, in your heart of hearts, you’re 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.

Your listeners 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.

Are these things holding you back from starting a podcast?

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Be yourself

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 isn’t much of a long term strategy.

You’re always going to be better off being the full strength version of yourself rather than the lite version of someone else.

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Don’t lose your sparkle…

Presenting on your own in an empty room can throw a wet blanket over your personality. This is because it’s hard to get that natural conversational energy into your voice when you’re talking to no one.

One of the ways to combat this is to visualise someone in your mind as your hosting or, if you can’t do that, look at yourself in a mirror (I know that sounds weird but it helps!).

And if there’s a certain feeling you want your listeners to get from your show, write that down on a piece of paper and keep it in front of your when you’re presenting.  It’s amazing what a difference it’ll make when your ideal show tone is top of mind.

How to keep an audience engaged when podcasting solo

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…but don’t get too sparkly

A good presenter sounds like they’re having a relaxed yet engaging conversation with the listener.  But even this relaxed style requires a lot of energy because while it’s a conversation it’s also a performance.

A good way to think about presenting is that it’s you with 25% 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 you probably wouldn’t use if you were chatting with your mates in the pub.

That extra bit of sparkle is what makes up for the fact you can’t look into your listener’s eyes or use body language to engage with them.  It might feel like it’s too much when you’re doing it but that 25% will burn off by the time it gets to your audience so they’ll just hear the “natural sounding” you.

One way to do this is by adding “smile” to your voice, which you do, oddly enough, by smiling.  This is a delicate balance so don’t go overboard and the best way to get it right is to listen back to yourself and see how you sound until you find your sweet spot.

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Remember to project

People often think because they’re talking into a microphone, there’s no need to project.

While you don’t need to yell you do need to speak in a way that’s designed to get your voice into people’s ears.  And this where your headphones come in handy.

Wearing headphone means you’re hearing what your listeners are hearing and you can adjust your performance accordingly.

Make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed when you’re presenting and remember you want to inject power into your voice rather than volume.

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

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Think about the pitch of your voice

When I was a teenager I sang in a lot of choirs.  One day before a big Eisteddford one of the girls stopped the group before we walked 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 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 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 listeners interested.

Just be mindful of not going too far because if your presentation style gets too sing-songy it’ll sound like you’re talking to a bunch of preschoolers.  And patronising your audience isn’t the best way to get in their good books.

Your voice is an instrument so use it like one.

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Slow down

Pace is an important part of presentation and something you really need to think about if you want to control it.

The general rule is you’ll always feel like you’re speaking slower than you are.  And the faster you speak the more nervous you’ll sound (and the more nervous you’ll make your audience).

There’s no better way to sound in control than slowing your pace.

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Don’t be afraid of silence

Most people are terrified of silence when they’re presenting so they race through things at a million miles an hour.  But silence is a great tool and can help you draw an audience in and give them a chance to absorb what you’re’s saying.

Since people can’t listen and process at the same time (the processing happens a fraction of a second later) slowing down and leaving a (tiny) bit of space can give your audience a chance to catch up.

When you’re presenting, silence will always feel longer than it actually is, so don’t be afraid to use it as a tool.  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 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.

Got a burning podcasting question you’d like answered? Send me an email.

Want to start your own podcast but need a little help?  Download my “How To Start A Podcast” guide or sign up for 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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