Is it Okay to Read Your Podcast? [4 Quadrants of Show Prep] + [5 Script Tips!]
A client asked me a question the other day that took me a moment to answer. She asked, "Is it okay to read your podcast?" I had to ask for some clarification. Her issue was that she was writing a complete script for her show and basically recording herself reading it. She wondered if that was okay. So, I asked for a recording of her show. Sure enough, it sounded like she was reading a script. You don't need to be a broadcast professional to know what it sounds like when someone is reading vs. just talking. However, you would be surprised how often you think someone is just talking when they are actually following a word for word script. TV news broadcasters, late-night television hosts, and politicians are usually looking at a teleprompter and following it word for word. So, let's dig a little deeper into the question, "Is it okay to read your podcast?"
Your podcast is one of a kind. Even if there are hundreds of other shows on the same topic, there is no other exactly like yours. That is what makes podcasting so amazing. But, we can't help but listen to other shows and compare certain aspects. One of the biggest things I get questions about is vocal delivery. I have written before about how to make your voice sound better on your podcast but, for this post, I am going to focus on one particular area that has come up a lot in my podcast reviews: reading from a script.
For a moment, we are going to focus on shows that are not, regularly, interactive. In other words, I am not talking about shows that are mostly interviews or shows with multiple hosts, but rather podcasts that have one host who does most of the talking.
Manuscript vs. No Manuscript
As we listen to podcasts, it can be hard to tell what is going on behind the mic. Most listeners love to listen to shows in which it sounds like the host is just talking to us. If we close our eyes and imagine the host in the studio, there is no script, no notes, just this person talking to us. However, unless they offer us a tell, there is no way to know for sure. So, let's look at some possibilities of what is going on behind the mic and then dig a little deeper at all the options in between.
1. Full manuscript - The host has written out the entire show and is, in essence, reading the podcast.
2. No manuscript - The host hasn't written anything all and is basically doing the show off the top of their head.
Chances are, you don't fall precisely into either of these camps. You are likely somewhere in between these two.
Now, it is rare that anyone is doing either in the full sense. Most podcasters fall somewhere in between. Maybe you don't have a manuscript, but you do have an outline. Perhaps you wrote a manuscript, but you then boiled it down into some notecards. Or maybe something else.
Now, I am going to add another axis. There is another factor to what is going on behind the mic: preparation time. You can't always tell, but sometimes, it is pretty clear that the host simply hits record and starts talking. Sometimes, the result is pretty impressive. Some people are just that good, they have a fantastic body of knowledge in their head, and are gifted in stringing the whole show together as they go. Other people, not so much.
So, let's add that to the chart.
Prep time can mean a lot of things. It can include writing a script, doing research, practicing, outlining the show, or for some people, just thinking about it. I know one podcaster that does research, takes a long walk, and then sits down and records the show. The walk in her prep time and she thinks about the research and decides how to approach the topic.
Putting Them Together
So, let's see how things intersect when we put these two things, manuscript vs. no manuscript and low prep time vs. extensive prep time. Again, these are just examples, every podcaster is different.
Again, when listening to a podcast, it is tough to tell what is actually going on with the host. This is especially true once we move up from low prep time to extensive prep time. At the bottom right of the matrix, we have low prep time and no manuscript. The bottom of the quadrant is basically "winging it." No prep, no script, just record and go. As we move up the prep-time axis, we get to the point of some prepared notes or at least some research. The lower left quadrant is blank at the very bottom. That's because, if you are using a manuscript, you need to take some amount of time to write it.
The bottom part of the matrix is where the difference is usually the most obvious.
While it is not always the case, I can usually hear the difference when there is low prep time. If someone has written a script and taken very little time to go over it and really know it, it sounds like they are reading. When a host doesn't have a manuscript and is just winging it or working from some notes, they can sound unprepared.
Experience and Talent
There are two things that don't show up on this matrix that can overcome a lack of preparation: experience and talent. As I wrote earlier, there are some podcasters with the experience and talent to hit record and deliver 30 minutes worth of content that is engaging, enlightening, and sounds like hours of preparation went into it. On the other side of that matrix, there are plenty of professionals that can read a script, having never before seen it and sound like they are speaking off the top of their head.
The top quadrants of the matrix are where it becomes challenging to tell the difference. Honestly, with enough preparation time, it becomes impossible to know if someone has a manuscript or is talking from notes or just off the top of their head. Prep time is the great equalizer. For those without a script, the prep time has helped them to be totally prepared and ready to go. For those with a manuscript, the additional prep time allows the host to really know the material and be comfortable with the script in such a way as to make it sound like they are just talking rather than reading.
So, let's go back to the initial question, "Is it okay to read your podcast?" The answer is yes, and no. If you are committed to taking the time to know your manuscript well enough that it doesn't sound like you are reading, then yes. If you can't take that kind of time, and it sounds like you are reading your manuscript, that will have a negative impact on your show. However, depending on your audience and your content, some listeners may be okay with it. You never know.
Five Script Tips for Podcasters
Okay. If you are going to read from a manuscript, here are five tips to make it sound more natural.
1. Write Like You Speak
One of the biggest problems some speakers have with manuscripts is that they write in a different way than they speak. Sometimes we write in a more formal style that doesn't reflect the way we really talk. Look for phrases that may be correct but don't sound like how you would actually speak.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
If you are reading from a manuscript and you want it to sound like you are not – practice. This entails reading the entire manuscript out loud as though you are recording your podcast. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to record it and listen back to see how it sounds. It should sound a little more natural each time. Eventually, you may find yourself able to look away from the page more and more to gain a more natural delivery.
3. Memorize Important Phrases and Sections
If the practice isn't enough, try memorizing some critical parts of the show. Maybe memorizing your first opening paragraphs will allow you to start the show more naturally. Perhaps there are some complex thoughts that you really want to emphasize. Know them cold, and you can avoid that "reading" sound.
4. Create an Outline or Notecards
For those who have trouble sounding natural when reading from a manuscript, it can be useful to boil the main points into an outline or notecards. In the outline or on the cards, list the key points of each paragraph or section. Hopefully, those key points and words will jog your memory to what you wanted to talk about without having to read it.
5. Practice without a Net
The great thing about podcasting is that you can record a show and, if it doesn't sound right, you can do it again. Practice rehearsing your script and then putting it away. This can be done with or without an outline or note cards. If it doesn't work, you can always try again. But, you won't know if this is something you can do without trying.
Want a second opinion on the sound of your podcast? Learn more about my Podcast Technical Review. I will help you sound better by your next episode.