Funny thing about voice. What you think you sound like and what you actually sound like are two com-plete-ly different things. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever listened to yourself recorded. And in the age of voice mail, who hasn’t?
There are a bunch of scientific reasons for that phenomenon (read one explanation here), but as a former TV journalist, I can attest that science doesn’t matter when you’re first starting out. All you know is, when you play your story back, your delivery doesn’t sound the way you intended and you want to change it. Or at least that’s how I felt.
Sex Doesn’t Always Sell
So during my initial weeks as a full-time reporter, I spent my time in the audio booth delivering voice-overs that I felt conveyed “newscasterish” authority. I built up the courage to ask a fellow reporter for feedback after about a month on the job. His response was kind but blunt:
“I like your story telling, and I like your stand-ups (the portion in front of camera), but during your voice-over, you sound a little crazy. It’s all slow and breathy.”
His critique was spot on. I listened to my stories with fresh ears and discovered that, in my attempts to transform my voice, I’d become a Katie Couric-esque phone-sex operator. (Bleck! No one wants to listen to that!)
I’d succumb to what I later dubbed as “new reporter voice.” My first tip to new hires, once I became assistant new director: stop trying to sound like what you think you’re supposed to, and just speak to the audience like you’d talk to your mother (as long as you like her).
Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out
Even with that knowledge under my belt, years later one of my favorite interviewees, Al Weinberg, taught me a valuable lesson.
If the Academy Awards decided to add “most distinctive voice” as a category, this lovable, successful businessman would have taken home the Oscar. He knew it and capitalized on it, narrating all of his commercials himself:
“Hi, folks! This is Al Weinberg from Weinberg’s in Presque Isle…”
Here’s a video of a story I shot with him about his unique sound. (Please forgive the poor audio and video quality. It’s a copy of a copy of a copy.)
Al embraced the uniqueness of his voice and used it to brand his business. As a Southern gal who’d worked hard to erase my drawl, this conversation made me rethink my approach.
Yes, I wanted an accent that viewers could understand, but achieving that goal didn’t mean I had to eradicate the characteristics that made me…well, me.
I loosened up after that. And perhaps it was Al’s influence that prompted me on my last newscast in Northern Maine to sign off with “Y’all have a great day now, ya hear?”
Transforming those Sentiments into Writing
Oddly enough, my eureka moments in broadcast news didn’t carryover into my creative writings. In story after story, I found myself emulating other writers and failing miserably. Similar to my sexed-up Couric voice, I hated all of it, as did the select few people who I allowed to read them.
Remembering those frustrating experiences led me to panic a bit late last year at the thought of launching this blog. I talked myself into going through with it anyway by reasoning “how would I ever find my writing style if I never wrote?”
Fast forward a few months. I’m starting to believe that I’m on the right track after receiving messages like these from friends:
“Had a chance to read your blog..It felt like we were having one of our talks and getting caught up on each other’s lives.”
“I can hear your voice in this…. So proud of you!”
“Your writing is funny and authentic. 🙂 Sounds just like you!”
What’s this? When I write like I talk, people don’t want to poke their eyes out?
Hmmm, seems like Al Weinberg taught me that years ago – embrace your voice and make it your brand. Apparently, some of his message got lost in translation.
How about you? Have you found your writing voice? Or, like me, is it still a work in progress? If you don’t write, have you had similar experiences in expressing yourself?
(This post is one of 30 30-somethings I’m writing for the weekly countdown to my 40th birthday. Celebrate with me as I share other lessons or humbling experiences from the past decade.)