Guest column by Peter Welander, Control Engineering process industries editor.
Have you tried to create a podcast or launch a video project? No? While I don’t have any hard data I suspect the majority of print and web editors have made no efforts, or very modest ones. For most editors, these projects are really scary, so don’t think your reluctance is anything peculiar.
When you first start listening to yourself, the sensation isn’t always pleasant. The key to improving is realizing what it is you don’t like about your delivery, and making a conscious effort to fix it. With some practice, it will get better.
If you’ve been following these columns, you might get the impression that I think the answer is simply technical. Get the right recorder and microphone, and all your problems are solved, right? Well, no. You can go to a trade show or conference and have all the right equipment plus training to use it, but still not record a minute of conversation or even take it out of the bag. Here are some reasons why I think that happens, with suggestions for what you can do to overcome the inertia. We’ll start with podcasts, as they are the more manageable project type. Video is somewhat more daunting.
Reasons why we don’t
- I have no technical skills
You tell yourself that you don’t understand the fine points of recording technology, you don’t have any equipment, and you have no idea how to edit or finish audio or video productions. These things can be taught fairly easily, and current equipment minimizes the need for technical skill. Seek out someone who has been successful and ask for guidance. The Oak Brook RBI office now has an audio recording studio with necessary equipment, and Web folks who can assist. Do other offices?
- Listeners will hear me—(Subtext: I think I sound like a dork.)
Yes, listeners will hear you. People who are used to reading your articles will now know what you sound like. If you find that unnerving, you’ll just have to get over it. You also have to get used to the idea of listening to yourself. That can take time.
- Listeners will hear my questions—(Subtext: I better ask really good questions.)
It’s true, you can no longer hide behind your notebook. We’ve lived with the understanding that answers are more important than questions and readers don’t hear what we ask. That changes now, and you have to think more about what you’re saying. It never hurts to write things out, even though it may sound a little stiff at first.
- Interviewees can be boring
Yes, they can. Everyone doesn’t provide an interesting recorded interview. If you have an interviewee with a dull delivery, you must either convince yourself that what he or she is saying is so important that people will listen anyway (e.g., Stephen Hawking), or don’t do the podcast. If you are disciplined enough to write out your questions and give them to your interviewee first, he or she can prepare and it could make a big difference.
- You might be boring
Yes, you might be the less interesting side of the interview or a dull narrator. That means what you say has to be really compelling or you have to work on your delivery. Probably both.
- I can’t, ummm, talk
Some people don’t realize how much they depend on ummm, ahhh, like, I mean, and that, and any number of other verbal crutches that get inserted into sentences. I suspect that indicates your mouth is running faster than your brain and you have to slow down your speech to let your thinking catch up. The first time you try and edit yourself on tape, this will become brutally obvious. It will also make editing a terribly tedious and slow process if you attempt to fix these glitches. The solution is to think ahead, make notes, and simply slow down. Stop for a few seconds and formulate your question in your head. Then talk. It’s easier to edit out a chunk of silence than smooth over an ummmm.
- I can’t…mumble…mumble…
Yes, you have to speak clearly and enunciate. I used to know a professional voice-over actor who told me that he would practice by reading aloud from Shakespeare or the King James Bible while holding a cork in his teeth. Maybe he was pulling my leg, but you get the idea. Some people do tend to mumble, but it can be overcome.
- I don’t have time
This is probably one of the biggest obstacles. For most of us, multi-media projects have to be done in addition to our normal responsibilities. The challenge is to find ways to incorporate these new things. However, doing so helps move you into the next phase of our existence as a company. Editors who cannot extricate themselves from print will be in a more difficult position as we move to online and multi-media. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it’s a reality.
- This puts all sorts of new pressures on me
Yes, it does. You have to be interesting and compelling on tape. Your voice has to sparkle and engage listeners. (If you think a podcast is scary, wait until you stand in front of a video camera!) This isn’t something we all do naturally, but these skills can be learned and it does get easier. Really.
What should I do?
- Practice. Record yourself as you interview your friends and family. Interview one of your fellow editors, and then switch roles. The topic doesn’t matter. This will also help build your technical skills.
- Then, listen to yourself and edit the recording. Critique your delivery. Do you speak in complete sentences? Can you understand yourself? Does your speech seem natural or forced? Record yourself reading an article aloud and see if you can make it sound like you’re not reading. Maybe this sounds silly, but you’d be surprised what it will tell you.
- If you’re going to an event and you want to do some recordings, plan ahead. The worst thing you can do is show up with no plans, no appointments, no objectives. Decide who you want to talk to and work out the details before you go. If you really want to do it right, plan your questions ahead and send them to your subject in advance. This will get both of you thinking and make the process much easier and smoother.
- Get ready for some criticism. Turn down your personal sensitivity and ask some people you trust to critique your efforts. Listen to the results and try to figure out what you can do to improve your methods.
Making this leap isn’t easy. Moving from being a wordsmith to a new role as voice talent, or worse, on camera, is a huge step, but it’s one you should make.