Sam Smargiassi comes from Portland, Oregon. In June she earned a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and wants to continue creating digestible and accessible journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @samsmargiassi or check out her portfolio.
When I was 12, I recorded my outgoing message for the voicemail on my first cell phone. After playing the recording back, I turned off my phone and tried to pretend this has never happened. I wasn’t prepared to learn how my voice sounded to others just yet.
Later on, my high school vocal teacher taught me that we hear our voices differently because our bodies can process low, vibrational tones better the closer we are to the source of the sound. That means sound waves traveling through space lose a lot of their richness. That’s why we are often shocked to hear how high-pitched our voices sound to others. I’ve been learning to intentionally lower my speaking voice for my first year of high school.
Ironically, I love audio storytelling.
I’ve had to deal with my own self-esteem issues because that’s what it boils down to: how are people going to perceive me?
So here are some tips if you’re dealing with the same thing:
Give your words value
With confidence in your words comes confidence in your voice.
For an early project, I attempted to turn one of my academic essays into a short audio piece. It was a film critique and it was ten pages long. I needed to condense it drastically.
It is hard to fit more than 150 words into a minute of audio. But beyond this, in order to feel confident about what you’re saying, it needs to be well written.
I became attached to what I had written in this essay, I felt it was strong as a written argument. But it had to be spoken. Lengthy sentences with high vocabulary simply didn’t work. I rushed through, lost confidence and eventually lost my breath. The end product was dismal. But I learned a great lesson about how much weight each word must hold.
Often, it helps to break up your sentences. Listeners can’t keep track of long sentences with multiple trains of thought in them.
Having some sort of rhythm can help. Repetition is my personal favourite (ex: There is no room for mistakes, no room for emotion, no room for a heating pad in your classroom, no room for your period).
But most effectively, read your script out loud before you record. Stop and correct areas that make you stumble over your words. Chances are if you’re having trouble saying it, it probably doesn’t sound great to listeners either.
Slow the heck down
Speaking quickly makes any confidence in your voice disappear.
This also plays into the idea of giving words value. You shouldn’t force yourself to squeeze in every word you can; it also usually means you’re not writing efficiently.
For me, this almost never comes on the first recording. I typically power through my first read, realise I barely went over my time limit, edit my words, take a deep breath and just slow down. Plus, this gives me more time to control the timbre of my voice.
Just remember to take a deep breath— and if speaking feels uncomfortable and rushed, listeners will pick up on it.
Make it conversational
Sometimes sticking to your script can sound unnatural. Listeners want to feel close to you. That’s part of the beauty of such an intimate medium.
That conversational tone helps a lot with description too. Recently, I was working on a piece about a man named Karl and his understanding of God. I showed it to a professor and he quickly asked me what Karl looked like. I naturally told him the quirkiest details of Karl’s appearance with genuine emotion. He told me that’s what I should record.
Now, if I’m feeling a block, I grab my recorder and make my friends participate in the creative process. I explain my story to them in the simplest way possible and let my ego take care of making it sound interesting. It makes for a more emotive, more natural and, of course, more confident recording.
As a bonus, listeners can hear a change in your tone of voice when you smile. That’s a tip I’ve used a lot (I have a pretty monotonous voice.)
I found myself on a steep learning curve in terms of how to act with confidence. Self-esteem is a difficult thing to tackle and that it’s something you will always continue to improve. Regardless, after each project I made I felt a bit more confident. I thought about the sound of my voice less and less. If that’s not working, just distract your listeners with natural sound and music.
Most importantly, don’t let your fear of how people will perceive you stop you from doing what you love. Audio is such an amazingly creative and emotional medium, I couldn’t give it up just because I didn’t fancy my own voice in play-back.
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