Honing your presentational technique
While a lot of mic and presentation technique will come with practise and experience — and you probably don’t want to sound over-slick and inauthentic — there are some useful rules-of-thumb to bear in mind, and some common pitfalls you can avoid.
Address the mic
Mic technique varies from person to person, and from mic to mic, but there are a few key principles that are important no matter the equipment you use.
Firstly, let’s look at the microphone itself. Each mic has a sweet spot you should talk into. If your mic has a logo on it, that’s usually the bit you would talk into, so position the logo in front of your face, right in the middle, and speak into the mic. Mics that work like this are called side-address mics.
In the case of the Heil PR40 and certain other top-address mics (especially handheld mics), you actually speak into the very top of the mic. Bear this in mind if you have a heavy microphone and a cheap desktop tripod, as you need to be able to angle the mic to your face without the tripod toppling over.
Eat the mic
Once you’ve angled the mic correctly, we now need to look at your distance from the mic. You should be as close to the mic as possible, without your lips touching anything. This is easier if you have a wind sock or other pop filter that’s fitted directly onto the microphone head, but if you have a pop shield that’s fitted to the microphone stand or the shock mount — as in the case of the Røde NT1-A — you’ll naturally have a little bit of distance, so you can afford to get a little closer to the pop shield.
Dynamic mics especially need you to be as close as possible, in some cases almost uncomfortably so (this is why some people call this “eating the mic”). You can counter some of this by turning up the gain on your mixer or recording software, but remember the further you are from the mic, the more your voice will bounce off solid surfaces, creating reverb.
Plus, being closer to the mic adds more bass notes to your voice, and that sounds cool.
To help set a good distance from the mic that you’ll remember from session to session, hold your dominant hand up as if you’re about to do a kung fu chop. Tuck your thumb away and then curl down the two fingers furthest away from you. The distance created by your two remaining fingers, standing vertically, is a good way to measure your distance from the microphone.
As you talk, remember to orientate yourself around the mic, and try to stay in roughly the same place. With a dynamic mic, even small changes in movement can make dramatic differences, and a tilt of the head one way or a subtle shift in angle could make your audio sound muffled or quiet. If you find yourself moving around a little, just try and remember to readjust every so often.
If you can get into the habit of turning your head when you laugh, this will improve your sound as it will mean you don’t suddenly have high spikes in volume or clip (essentially put more sound through the microphone than it can handle). It might seem difficult at first, but you can learn to reflexively turn away as you laugh, and after a short while it’ll become a natural reflex.
If you’re recording with a guest or a co-host either in person or with video chat, sit back while you’re not on mic. This will cut down on the sounds of your breathing, and will signal to the other person that you’re listening to what they’re saying, rather than waiting for them to stop speaking. As you lean in, this will signal to the other person that you’ve got something to say. If you’re someone who has a tendency to interrupt, leaning backwards will help keep that instinct in check.
Have a drink
It’s always a good idea to bring a drink with you, especially on longer recording sessions. Firstly, regardless of the drink, take care as you pick up and put down your cup, glass or bottle. Look for soft surfaces you can safely put your drink on while recording, so you don’t add unwanted noise to your track. If you mic is attached to a boom arm, this will be much less prominent than if you had a desk-mounted stand, as the vibrations from you putting down your cup will make their way all the way up to the microphone’s diaphragm.
Water and tea are good drinks to bring in with you. Coffee’s fine too, although it might dry your mouth out a little, which can alter the sound and create some strange noises as you talk. Avoid fizzy drinks like cola or beer, as these will make you gassy, and even if you’re not burping directly into the microphone, those effects can still be heard.
When you come to speak, remember that podcasts are, first and foremost, a conversation. Even a solo podcast is a conversation between you and the listener, not a formal address. Your listeners don’t need to be addressed formally. Even if your topic is very serious, listeners engage with authenticity far more than with formality.
If you’re reading from a script you’ve written, read it aloud as part of your writing process, to see if the words ring true, and sound more or less like words that someone would say out loud. That might seem strange given that all words can be said out loud, but we choose words differently when writing vs speaking off-the-cuff. You don’t have to artificially add words like “um”, “like” and “y’know”, but if you’re struggling, you can try recording what you want to say on your phone, then taking notes from your spoken audio, rather than writing from scratch.
Whether you’re speaking off-the-cuff or from a script, remember this point, that’s been a facet of radio from its earliest days and still holds true today: you are only speaking to one person at a time. YouTube has popularised the notion of referring to an audience as “guys”, but the gender point aside, your podcast is typically played by one person at a time.
Starting your show with “hello everybody” immediately signals to the listener that they don’t have an intimate connection with you; that they’re simply one of many. Try and get into the habit of referring to /The Listener/ as one person. It will radically change how your audience feels about you and their connection with your podcast.
This doesn’t preclude you from addressing your listeners as a community, but here the emphasis should be on “we”, as much as possible, rather than the plural “you”, or much worse, “they”. It can be a tricky line to walk, and the important thing here is to speak in a way that comes naturally to you, rather than to follow a doctrine, but you can refer to “everyone in the Discord server” in one context, and “you the listener” in another. That way, your audience gets to feel special and unique, but also part of a community.
Mistakes happen all the time, regardless of your experience level. Stumbles and occasional stutters are normal parts of everyday speech, so don’t feel you have to avoid them at all costs, or erase them in the final edit. If you are dissatisfied with how a particular phrase has turned out, and you want to have another go, stop, take a breath and rewind two places (where a “place” might be the beginning of a sentence, or a phrase in a longer sentence).
Backing up two places is important because it’s common for us to break up sentences differently the first time vs the second, depending on how much air we had left before taking another breath. As a rule of thumb, be prepared to repeat yourself rather than try and save time. You’ll thank yourself later when you come to edit.