How to Develop Your Voice for TV or Radio

5 Tips on Vocal Training for Broadcasting

A photo of a reporter holding a microphone at the beach.
Most aspects of broadcasting have become less formal in recent years, including the way that broadcasters speak. Photo © Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images

People who work in broadcasting want to develop their voice for TV or radio so that they sound professional the minute they first speak into a microphone. Decades ago, finding your broadcast voice was simple. Men tried to speak with as deep a voice as possible, while ladies wanted to sound happy as if they'd just baked a pie.

Today, such speech sounds artificial on the air, which often makes the audience suspicious of what's being said.

Vocal training means sounding less like an announcer and more like your natural self when the TV or radio microphone is turned on.

Change Your Expectations

Oprah Winfrey and Bill O'Reilly are very different people on TV, as are Ryan Seacrest and Howard Stern on radio. But there's something they all have in common on the air.

Vocally, they don't sound like announcers. Regardless of whether they are reading from a script or ad-libbing, they all sound like they're talking to you naturally, as if they were sitting next to you having a conversation. as if they were sitting next to you having a conversation.

When you started your media career, you may have fallen into a common trap of trying to imitate someone famous. Maybe you wanted the deep gravitas of James Earl Jones or the seductive sounds of Susan Sarandon. But the time you spend trying to sound like someone else is better devoted to sounding more like yourself.

On-air media superstars are those with the natural ability to communicate. Being natural starts with sounding natural, not by trying to emulate someone you admire. In recent years, all aspects of broadcasting have become less formal, including vocals.

Listen to Your Voice

To build a natural-sounding broadcast voice, listen to yourself.

Record a conversation you have with a friend and compare it to how you sound on the air.

What you want to hear is the tone of your voice. A conversation has peaks and valleys in inflection, speed, and emphasis. Too often, a broadcast voice sounds flat, especially when you are reading from a script. The opposite extreme is a vocal delivery with a repetitive punch, which sounds sing-songy because the pitch goes up and down at the same rate in each sentence.

Here's an exercise: Take a script that you would read on the air and put it aside. Now record yourself saying the same information -- not in script form, but as you would say it to a friend. That is the vocal delivery style you want on the air.

Tweak Your Scripts

The most natural-sounding people on TV and radio are usually reading scripts written by someone else. That doesn't mean the copy can't be tweaked to fit your vocal training style.

Sometimes it's as simple as switching out words. A news script that talks about the state making improvements to "transportation infrastructure" will sound like a government document on the air, no matter who reads it. Replace that bureaucrat-speak with "roads and bridges" and you've instantly made the information easier to understand and deliver.

Depending on the script writer, sentences may all be too long or too short. Sentences that are too long are hard to speak effectively because you're just waiting for the end so you can take a breath. A lot of short, choppy sentences give a rat-a-tat-tat sound on the air.

The best approach is to vary the length of sentences. That's the way people speak in normal conversation. If you're stuck with a long, complicated line that's crammed with information, then make sure the next line is short. You'd be surprised at how making that slight change will help your broadcast voice.

Develop Ad-Lib Skills

It sounds strange, but ad-libbing without a script is both easier and harder in developing your broadcast voice than reading printed copy. Vocal training requires that you excel at both.

Ad-libbing can be easier because you're simply talking into a microphone.

You sound natural because you're speaking, just as you do at home or on the telephone. The words you choose are your own, not those of a script writer.

Yet those who've become over-reliant on scripted words struggle with finding words to say on the air. That's often because they try to write a script in their head, instead of speaking from the heart. If they were reporting live from a house fire, instead of saying, "Look at the huge flames coming out of that window behind me," they are mentally trying to say, "The blaze has consumed the structure approximately 50 yards in the distance."

Converting everyday language into something a journalist would say cripples your ability to sound natural and erects a wall between you and your audience. Viewers don't feel as though they're seeing the real you because of how you choose to speak at them, rather than talk with them.

Sports announcers are spoofed all the time for the tired cliches they use. But when Al Michaels said, "Do you believe in miracles?" when the U.S. hockey team scored an improbable victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, he captured the moment by sounding like a friend and not like a cliched announcer. That's why that line is so memorable to this day.

Practice Vocal Training

You can't transform your vocal training skills overnight. It takes the right kind of practice in order to become so comfortable on the air that you can't help but sound like yourself.

Record yourself, both reading from a script ad-libbing. Ideally, you will sound the same, because the best media pros can switch seamlessly between the two without changing their broadcast voice.

Find two friends, one who works in media and one who doesn't, to help. They will be able to spot artificial patterns in your announcing that you may not notice or useless words and phrases in your ad-libbing.

Avoid adding mechanical tricks while you practice, such as deliberately pausing for two seconds between saying, "The baby survived the crash. (Pause) Her mother did not." The goal is not to sound like an orator delivering a speech to the masses, but to be personal and intimate with each member of the audience. This is not the public speaking you may have learned in high school or college.

Recording your voice will also help you decide whether losing your accent will help you build your career outside your native region. These days, there's less emphasis in media on having everyone sound as though they grew up on the same street in the Midwest. If you grew up in Nashville, or Chicago or Boston, keeping part of your regional dialect may actually help you and your company build your media brand.

On the other hand, if you catch yourself saying "Thanksgivin" instead of "Thanksgiving", you will want to address that common vocal delivery issue. Natural doesn't mean sounding unprofessional or uneducated.

No one is ever truly finished developing their broadcast voice. Taking the time to master vocal training will pay off as you advance your media career.