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It takes technique to sound conversational

Sounding conversational isn’t only the goal of news writing. It’s also integral to successful news reading, as well. But one of the paradoxes of sounding natural and interesting on the air is that it requires loads of technique. Rookie newsreaders just starting out (say, in college) typically read scripts pretty much the way they read aloud in high school classrooms, namely, in an uninflected, droning monotone. (Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Bueller? Bueller?”)

But in broadcasting, and especially in radio, you must grab an audience and keep its attention for one to five minutes or more with just your voice. Your ‘read’ must convey the significance, meaning and emotion of each story as you read it. Scripts contain various textures: suspicion, intrigue, conflict, outrage, humor, colorful detail, boring detail, and much more. The anchorperson’s delivery must convey all that, both to help the listener understand what she is hearing, and to keep her interested.

In short, delivery compensates in some ways for what broadcast news lacks in detail. The mental picture you deliver with an interesting, colorful, musical read can be worth a thousand words of print-y minutiae.

So think of it not as ‘reading,’ but as an acting job. Invest your quotes and paraphrases with some flavor of how they might have been said by their source. Sound surpised when you say something surprising. Sound a little sad when you read something sad. Emphasize the important words (more on the various tools for emphasis in future entry), and muscle quickly through the boring, obligatory parts (like most attribution). Vary your read to follow the varying tones of your well-written script and you’ll hold an audience’s attention–right now, and the next time they hear you.

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