Learn From Radio to Boost Your On-Screen Presence

In the children’s classic book, one of the unfortunate brats to come a cropper in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is Mike Teavee who finds himself shrunk down to the size (three inches) where he becomes trapped inside a television screen. This scene is one that will resonate with many who have found themselves trapped behind their own, albeit different, screen as meetings have shifted online.

And thus by the same token many will have felt as helpless as poor little Mike Teavee as they have struggled to project the kind of impact from behind the screen that the pre-covid meeting room allowed. Getting stripped back to 2D has thrown up a number of issues with communication and making yourself heard effectively although, in the long run, being forced to adjust to the demands of video technology, may not be such a bad thing. This uncertain period should be seen as an opportunity to hone new skills for online (and on air) communication.

Find Your Radio Voice for Video

In this respect, I am certainly seeing a new appreciation for the skills attached to voice craft as a way to cut through the dryness of video communication and, as such, have been finding myself paying closer attention to radio presenters of late. Before the arrival of the celebrity presenter, the radio was a sanctuary for a whole generation of skilful communicators who perhaps would not have been so successful were they on television (an element of truth that was reflected in the onetime popular phrase ‘a face for radio’).

Vocal impact has become a coveted skill during these Zoom dominated times and consequently, we can learn a great deal from the professional radio DJ about how to use the voice to great effect.  As legions of Zoomers struggle to make an impression, we are seeing a renewed respect for just how hard a radio presenter has work to engage an audience that is relying on one sense alone.

A football match played out by television and radio commentary presenting teams illustrates this point wonderfully. For the TV pundit, the experience is one of complementing the visual action whereas the radio presenter is the action. Even the dullest game is brought to life by the radio commentator for the simple reason that they have no choice if they are going to keep their listeners’ attention for 90 minutes!

I recommend tuning into the radio and listening to how the pros work their audience. Note the way that the best known presenters work their shows day in and day out, without ever missing a beat. Regardless of what is happening in their own lives, the likes of Zoe Ball, Jeremy Vine, Steve Wright, Jo Whiley, Evan Davies, Mishal Hussain and Jane Garvey – the wonderful Jane Garvey who makes her millions of listeners feel like she is just speaking to them and who can fill air time when calls go down like no other –  will put in a performance that is high octane in energy, engagement and entertainment.

They are carrying their audience along through the power of their voice as a physical presence but also as an attitude. As the listener it’s hard not to imagine that they bounce out of the studio at the end of their shift and continue talking their way through their day in the same vein, but of course the reality is very different (unless you are Tony Blackburn of course…).

Radio DJs channel this energy as part of their performance and, while I am not recommending that you do it to such an extent in your own video conferencing, I do recommend that you study how they use their voice and intonation to convey information and emotion and hold the audience’s attention. As it doesn’t look like the meeting room will be back, as we knew it, for a while, now is the time to adapt to the reality of video and those who invest in increasing their personal impact through this medium will benefit immensely.

Tweak the Tech to Boost Your Voice

Aside from polishing up those video presentation skills, there are a couple of simple tech tweaks which can make a significant impact to how you’re heard. Remember the last meeting when you struggled to hear one of the participants and stared at the screen thinking ‘why haven’t you sorted that out? – well are you sure others are not saying the same about you?

Have you checked your sound levels recently (on the computer itself as well as whatever app you’re using) and are you still relying on your in-built microphone? If the answer is yes, then why not think about upgrading to an actual microphone with a pop filter.  They do wonders for the voice and will make you feel very professional in yoru home-studio.  You’ll be recording podcasts before you know it.  You can use a headset but be warned, even though there is more intimacy with it than from the echo of your kitchen, it can make you sound a little like an airline pilot telling the cabin crew it’s twenty minutes to landing or potentially appearing like you are at a call centre, a TV evangelist or a gaming-addicted teenager on You Tube.  Whatever you do, isolating the audio is going to help you focus on the modulation of your voice and a getting a good microphone will significantly improve the impact of your spoken word.

Next time you hear yourself saying that these radio presenters are on an easy gig, just chatting for a few hours a day, think again about what they are actually doing.  As is so often the case, those who make things seem effortless and easy are usually those who have done their ten thousand hours.