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Jon Beaupré is a voice and performance consultant for radio and television performers. Under the name Broadcast Voice, he provides private training and workshops for reporters, anchors, sports and weather casters, and others working in electronic and broadcast media. He teaches in the Broadcast Communications program at California State University at Los Angeles, and conducts workshops and seminars with the Associated Press Radio and Television Association. He has been a fixture on the convention circuit, teaching workshops at a wide range of specialty journalism and broadcast conventions and stations on both coasts of the U.S.

The Dangling Conversation Part III

One of the interesting things about ‘sounding conversational’ on the air is that there is absolutely nothing natural about it. Actually, what you have to do is work very, very hard to sound relaxed, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. How often do you sit across from a total stranger in a bar, look intently at them and say, without flinching, “Al Qaeda troops retreated from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan today, marching toward the Pakistani border...” It’s even worse when you are on camera. You have lights on you, production personnel around you, cameras, audio equipment, microphones - the whole setup is anything but ‘natural’. So we have to take this term ‘conversational’ with a few explanations.

Don’t let the term ‘conversational’ scare you. Often news directors and producers will use the term because they can’t think of another term to describe what they would like their reporters and anchors to sound like. In my experience, when pressed further, they generally mean that they don’t want their reporter to sound like they are reading, and they don’t want them to sound like they are in an artificial setting (which they are anyway!). What this means is that we have to perform a subtle illusion: with thousands of dollars of equipment waiting on us, dozens of staff and technicians depending on you to perform as planned, and thousand of viewers or listeners waiting to hear what you have to say - you have to sound unperturbed, knowledgeable about your story, and able to talk with an anchor on occasion.

In short, we have to behave in the most ‘natural-sounding’ way possible under extraordinary pressure. It’s not impossible, but it does take some concentration.

Here are some hints:

1. The more you focus on the details of your story, the less attention you can give to your own anxiety. If you concentrate on the details of your story, you don’t really have time or brain power to be anxious or worried about your performance.

2. Don’t set out to sound like anything at all. How you sound will be THE RESULT of what you are thinking not the cause. This may sound paradoxical coming from a voice coach, but it’s true. The best performers don’t set out to sound like anything at all, they just set out to do what they have to do with complete conviction and pleasure. How they sound is the result of that motivation.

3. With the first syllable of the first word of your story to come out of your mouth, claim your space. That first sound is not only your audience’s introduction to your story, it is their introduction to you as a person, and just like the lion waking in the morning, when she makes her first growling yawn, it’s not only to wake up and stretch, it’s to warn all the other animals within range that she is there. You should do the same thing. With your first sounds, claim the space you need to tell your story.

4. If you begin to think of timidity as selfish, you will go a long way to open up. If you see your own timidity as a fear of exposing yourself, your eccentricities and oddness, you will remain tight, closed, and inaccessible. If you don’t really care too much what people think of how you sound, you will probably do fine.

Finally, this week, it is my hope that whatever your faith, whatever your spiritual tradition, that this holiday season find you filled with joy, surrounded by people you love, and constantly engaged in good conversation.

Keep breathing.