I have to say I’m still experimenting with the idea of podcasts. Like once upon a time when everyone needed to have a website, we’re now at a point in the evolution of over-sharing where we all need a podcast. And I’ve noticed different people take different approaches.
Choosing your voice and tone is something we do subconsciously. I tend to speak slowly with pauses.... sometimes for emphasis.... sometimes for rhythm. To be honest, my presentation style was honed in conference rooms in other countries with audiences who learned English as a second language. I found myself softening my accent, removing colloquialisms, and simplifying my language by not using words like “colloquialisms.”
That said, most amateur podcasts go like this:
Hi guys! This is Michael and today I’m going to talk about this really cool thing. You know, it might be a thing I get paid to talk about? Or it might be my hobby? But it doesn’t matter, you know, because I’m going to talk like your bubbly Best. Friend.
It’s no less an affectation than me slowing down and removing the “Word whiskers” (the ums, and ahs that are part of natural speaking). The super friendly speaking style works in podcasts because we want to spend some time with our friends.
But there is another kind of familiarity. People like Stephen Fry succeed without being “just some guy,” in part because he doesn’t have a colloquial accent, he has what I call the BBC accent, which goes something like this:
Tonight on BBC we will explore the way Stephen Fry has leveraged his Cambridge education into a friendly, forthright explainer of all things. While this may be a topic for which he is being royally compensated to speak upon, or a curious personal hobby, it truly matters little because he will speak with you in deep, educated tones to lull you into comfort and a sense of kinship.
That was the same basic topic as the best friend approach but a change of tone can completely change the impression of the topic. We can change it with another twist:
My friends, I am here to tell you. There are THINGS that you need to know. It doesn’t matter who I work. I’m going to TELL you about it because I’m your angry inner voice. I’m not your friend, I’m little guy inside you saying the GOVERNMENT IS WRONG.
He could still be selling you something, but it doesn’t matter, the angry man in the podcast resonates with the angry person inside so many of us. You might think I’m talking about Rush Limbaugh or one of those pundits, but honestly, it could be Bill Maher; the politics honestly don’t matter, the tone matters, the emotional hook, the fire it kindles in your inner monologue.. that’s what matters.
Then there’s your basic radio program-turned-podcast. These generally have high production value and we listen because they sound credible without hooking you in the same way. They sound like the educated voices of America who have no agenda but are just presenting a story for your education, a moment to reflect, be entertained, and maybe learn something along the way.
Hi, I’m Michael Bissell with WX09. We’ve been researching a compelling breakthrough in an area of research that can’t be linked directly to our own funding, which means this must be a pure, informative broadcast for you, our listener. My colleagues and I speak in a light, but somehow serious way, to make you feel comfortable, connected and somehow detached at the same time.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the way Public Radio fits nicely into the podcast world. The point I’m making is that audio, as opposed to the written word, allows us to add an emotional context, a connection that fulfills not only a brand, but a deeper connection to how individuals connect with the world.
Even I change my vocal tones out depending on what I’m presenting... For example, I have a side project where I make lamps from scrap wood and melting down used plastic cups. I’m touching on a lot of things that people feel are important – reclaimed wood, reusing single use plastics, connecting with the world from my small town shop at the mouth of the Columbia River.
My professional voice, honed on the globalized economy, isn’t appropriate when I talk about that project, and my own recordings end up sounding less like this, and more like... this:
I’ve been working on this thing in my shop and I’m going to show it to you today. Now you all know you can buy my things on my website, but you also know it’s something I do because I want to, kind of a hobby, kind of a job. At the end of the day, we know it doesn’t matter because we’re just building a connection... and those connections are what we all need.
So let me conclude with this. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has something to say, and we all want to connect, we all want to learn something new. The tone really doesn’t matter much, what matters is that it’s YOUR tone, and that whether you’re selling something, or just sharing because you honestly love it, your podcast is you reaching out and trying to find a connection.
And that is really what it’s all about.